Dingo - Control Measures

Control Measures

Dingo attacks on livestock led to widescale efforts to repel them from areas with intensive agricultural usage, and all states and territories have enacted laws for the control of dingoes. In the early 20th century, fences were erected to keep dingoes away from areas frequented by sheep, and a tendency to routinely eradicate dingoes developed among some livestock owners. Established methods for the control of dingoes in sheep areas consisted in the employment of certain workers on every property. The job of these people (who were nicknamed "doggers") was to reduce the number of dingoes by using steel traps, baits, firearms and other methods. The responsibility for the control of wild dogs lay solely in the hands of the land owners. At the same time, the government was forced to decimate the number of dingoes that came from unoccupied areas or reserves that might have travelled to industrial areas. As a result, a number of measures for the control of dingoes developed over time. It was also considered that dingoes travel over long distances to reach areas with richer prey populations and the control was often concentrated along "paths" or "trails" and in areas that were far away from sheep areas. Every dingo was regarded as a potential danger and had to be hunted.

In the 1920s the Dingo Fence was erected on the basis of the Wild dog act (1921) and, until 1931, thousands of miles of dogfences had been erected in several areas of South Australia. In the year 1946, these efforts were directed to a single goal and the Dingofence was finally completed. The fence connected with other fences in New South Wales and Queensland. The main responsibilities in maintaining the dogfence still lies with the landowners, whose properties border on the fence and get financial support from the government.

A reward system (local, as well from the government) was active from 1846 to the end of the 20th century, but there is no evidence that – despite the billions of dollars used – it was ever an efficient control method. Therefore, its importance declined over time.

The eradication of dingoes due to livestock damage decreased along with the importance of the sheep industry and the usage of strychnine (which beforehand had been used for 100 years) in the 1970s. The number of doggers also decreased and the frequency of government approved aerial baiting increased. During this period, many farmers in Western Australia switched to the cattle industry, and findings in the area of biology led to a significant change in control measures and techniques in association with reduced costs and increased efficiency. At the same time, the importance of 1080 increased and the first anxieties arose that the number of dingoes might have decreased so much that they may become locally extinct. Increasing pressure from environmentalists, against the random killing of dingoes as well as due to the impact on other animals, demanded that more information needed to be gathered to prove the necessity of control measures and to disprove the claim of unnecessary killings. Observations on the ecology of dingoes led to the practice to place baits near water holes, hiding places and prey sites.

Today, permanent population control is regarded as necessary to reduce the impact of all wild dogs and to ensure the survival of the "pure" dingo in the wild.

Owners of dingoes and other domestic dogs are sometimes asked to spay or neuter their pets and keep them under observation to reduce the number of stray/feral dogs and prevent interbreeding with dingoes (for instance under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (2000)). The principle of caution is used at least in some control areas today, since dingoes are fully protected there, have cultural importance to the indigenous people and much data concerning the importance of dingoes and the impact of control measures on other species is missing. Historically, the attitudes and needs of indigenous people were not taken into account when dingoes were controlled. So called dingo conservation zones are regarded as a possible solution for this problem, and these zones would mainly be based on holy dingo sites and dreamtime-paths. Other factors that might be taken into account are the genetic status (degree of interbreeding) of dingoes in these areas, ownership and land usage, as well as a reduction of killing measures to areas outside of the zones. Land owners are increasingly committed to regularly record where individual dingoes and their tracks are most frequent and cause the most damage. Also, birth, damage and mortality rates of livestock should be recorded. However most control measures and the appropriate studies are there to minimise the loss of livestock and not to protect dingoes. In areas of cattle industries, there are few or no control measures, and efforts are mostly limited to occasional shootings and poisonings. Government controlled use of 1080 is performed only every third year, when field observations prove the claims of high livestock losses and dingo numbers.

Baits with 1080 are regarded as the fastest as safest method for dog control, since they are extremely susceptible: even small amounts of poison per dog are sufficient (0.3 mg per kg). The application of aerial baiting is regulated in the Commonwealth by the Civil Aviation Regulations (1988). The assumption that the Tiger Quoll might be damaged by the poison led to the dwindling of areas where aerial baiting could be performed. In areas where aerial baiting is no longer possible, it is necessary to put down baits. Where steel traps and baits cannot or are not allowed to be used (for example, residential zones), cage traps are used.

Apart from the introduction of 1080 (extensively used for 40 years and nicknamed "doggone"), the methods and strategies for decimating wild dogs have changed little over time. Strychnine is still used in all parts of Australia. Trapping and removal is an essential part of the control measures in the highlands of South-eastern New South Wales and Northern Victoria. It does occur that dingoes are hunted and shot by people on horseback or that a premium is sold for shot dingoes. One method, that does not have any proven effect, is to hang dead dogs along the borders of the property in the belief that this would repel wild dogs. To protect livestock, livestock guardian dogs (for example, Maremmas), donkeys, alpacas, and llamas are used. Over the last years cyanide-ejectors and protection collars (filled with 1080 on certain spots) have been tested To keep wild dogs away from certain areas, efforts are taken to make these areas unattractive for them (for example, by getting rid of food waste) and therefore forcing them to move elsewhere. Control through deliberately spreading disease is normally not considered. Such attempts probably would not be successful, because typical dog diseases are already present in the population. Additionally, dogs under human care would also be susceptible. Other biological control methods are not regarded as achievable, since there would be a high risk of decimating dogs under human care.

The efficiency of control measures was questioned in the past and is still often questioned today. It is also questioned whether they stand in a good cost-benefit ratio. The premium system proved to be susceptible to deception and to be useless on a large scale and can therefore only be used for getting rid of "problem-dogs". Animal traps are considered as inhumane and inefficient on a large scale, for example, due to the limited efficacy of baits. Based on studies, it is assumed that only young dogs that would have died anyway can be captured. Furthermore, wild dogs are capable of learning and sometimes are able to detect and avoid traps quite efficiently. In one case, a dingo bitch followed a dogger and triggered its traps one after another by carefully pushing her paw through the sand that covered the trap. Poisonous baits can be very effective when they are of good meat quality; however, they do not last long and are proven to be taken by Red Foxes, quolls, ants, and birds. Aerial baiting can nearly eliminate whole dingo populations. Livestock guardian dogs can effectively minimise livestock losses, but are less effective on wide open areas with widely distributed livestock. Furthermore they can be a danger to the livestock or be killed by control measures themselves when they are not sufficiently supervised by their owners. Fences are reliable in keeping wild dogs from entering certain areas, but they are expensive to build and need permanent maintenance. Further more they only cause the problem to be relocated.

According to studies, control measures can eliminate 66 to 84% of a wild living dog population, but the population can reach their old numbers very quickly over the course of a year and depending on the season, for instance by immigration of young dogs from other areas. If at all, only a cohesive coordinated control in all areas could be efficient in the long run. Control measures mostly result in smaller packs respectively in a disruption of the pack structure. Also the measures seem to be rather detrimental to the livestock industry because the empty territories are taken over by young dogs and the predation then increases. Nonetheless it is regarded as unlikely that the control measures could completely eradicate the dingo in Central Australia, and the elimination of all wild dogs is not considered as a realistic option.

See also: Dingo scalping

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