As ex-sheep producers we realise there will be a fair bit of angst regarding our stance on dingos. We have not taken the decision to include dingos in our management lightly. It’s resulted from years of observing grazing impacts and landscape function. Just to be clear at the outset, it is not the dingos themselves that we are enamoured by, rather their contribution to the management of grazing pressure and biodiversity on Wooleen. Below is a very short summary for those disinclined to wade into the full depth of our rational for including dingos in our management. For ease of reference, we have broken down the different issues.
- Wild dogs and dingos are classified the same by government for management purposes
- Crosses between dingos and wild dogs appear to move towards being more dingo-like
- Dingos learn to attack cattle, but only in a degraded landscape under drought conditions
- Dingos can completely remove Goats and foxes from the landscape
- Dingos are beneficial for native animals, because they prey on foxes and feral cats
- Dingos are effective in managing kangaroo numbers to natural, acceptable levels
- Foxes, Feral goats, Feral cats, Rabbits and Pigs are all listed as key threatening processes by the Australian Government. All can be managed with dingos.
- Without dingos Goats and kangaroos can contribute over half of the grazing pressure, which is an untenable situation for recovering degraded land
- Rest based grazing is effectively impossible in the presence of unmanaged goats and kangaroos
- Dingos are incompatible with sheep production
- Current dingo control does not protect sheep producers, and needs to be re-assessed.
- Wooleen aims to find a way recover degraded rangelands and develop an ecologically and financially sustainable beef production enterprise. We consider Dingos an important tool in this process.
What’s the difference between a dingo and a wild dog?
The short answer is, nothing. The official government answer is, nothing. The following paragraph is taken from the Western Australian Agriculture website:
“The term wild dog is used to describe pure-bred dingoes (Canis lupus dingo), feral/escaped domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) and their hybrids. Wild dogs are a major pest species impacting on grazing industries across mainland Australia. Since arrival in Australia dingoes and domestic dogs have interbred and most wild dog populations now include some level of hybridisation. The extent of hybridisation across the country broadly reflects the intensity of human settlement. In Western Australia over half (59%) of wild dogs have tested as ‘pure’ dingoes. Within populations of wild dogs there is a low proportion of purely domestic dogs.”
So don’t feel bad if you’re confused. Essentially, from the view of many livestock (sheep or goats) producers, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a wild dog or a dingo. While only 59% have been tested as genetically “pure”, the number of dingo-acting and dingo-looking canines is much higher, as evidenced by the statement ending that “there is a low proportion of purely domestic dogs”. Interestingly some canines that look like hybrid dogs turn out to be pure dingo, and vice-versa.
The only way to tell for sure is to do a DNA test. The Ag Department gathered information from a nation-wide call for DNA samples of canines that had been killed as part of wild dog eradication programs. 3637 samples were analysed and they showed that the prevalence of pure dingos to wild dogs were strongly aligned to the human population, the more humans, the more wild dogs, and the less pure dingos. The study indicates that New South Wales and Victoria have very few dingos. But it is perhaps important to note that not many samples were taken there, only 95 from NSW and 626 from Victoria, and at least two thirds of the area of those states were not sampled at all. Queensland supplied 356 samples, mostly from sheep production areas. South Australia supplied 148 samples and the NT supplied 128. The study is called:
“Death by sex in an Australian icon: a continent-wide survey reveals extensive hybridization between dingoes and domestic dogs” and was funded through a scholarship from the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, which is in turn funded by the Australian Governments Department of Industry and Science.
Further study since this one was published in 2012 have revealed that the title ‘Death by Sex’ might be a bit pessimistic, as crosses between dingos and domestic dogs seem more likely to throw towards a dingo-looking-acting dog. This statement is from The University of New South Wales Dr Letnic in a recent ABC news article: “We found that there’s a tendency for the hybrid animals to converge towards the wild-type dingo. They look more like a dingo than they do like a dog,”
Which brings us to how we at Wooleen determine whether it’s a dingo or a wild dog. If it looks like a dingo I presume it is. If it doesn’t look like a Dingo, then I assume it is not a dingo, and I endeavour to shoot it. I have only seen 4 wild dogs on Wooleen that don’t look like pure dingos, and I have managed to shoot two of them. I find this surprising because Wooleen is, according to the study, in an area with a relatively low percentage of pure dingos. Probably they are not pure, just hybrids in the process of reverting back to their Dingo heritage. But they look and act like dingos, and further interbreeding seems to make them more and more dingo-like. We are not that worried about their genetic purity, but remain vigilant for managing anything that doesn’t look like a dingo.
I will refer to them as dingos throughout this discourse, fully knowing that many of them are not. I have found that the term Wild-Dog is confusing to most people who do not have an understanding of the issue. Considering that the anti-dog campaigners never use the word dingo to describe these dogs as a whole, and the majority of them have been shown to be dingos, I think in the interests of fairness it is appropriate to use the term dingo throughout, in order to conjure up a mental image that is closer to the truth.
Dingos and Cattle.
Since 2007 Wooleen Station has been primarily destocked to try and rehabilitate degraded land. We do have cattle sometimes, as part of a trading operation that has been running for the past 8 years. Trading cattle has been financially necessary so that we can get some cashflow from cattle production while still recovering the land. This has also been useful to assess the grazing impact on the newly recovered perennial plants, as well as to test the new cattle infrastructure that we have been installing. We are aware that dingos sometimes prey on cattle, but this has not been the case on Wooleen. Despite always buying very poor cattle (in order to fatten them) and despite recently buying them one month before a drought was declared (when the price of cattle was very low), and the drought continuing for the rest of the time that we kept them, we had zero instances of attacks on cattle by dingos that we know of. There were no bite marks or missing tails on any of the calves.
The reason that we had no instances of attack is because dingos only seem to attack cattle in a situation where the landscape is degraded, (which, unfortunately, is the great majority of the southern rangelands) and during a drought. This is due to a lack of nutritious forage for the cattle. A lack of food leaves the animal weak, and having to walk long distances from the troughs and windmills in search of food. It is very uncommon to have a full grown animal attacked, but attacks on calves are much more prevalent.
The relationship between cattle and dingos is the same as that between foxes and sheep. Foxes will eat sheep, but only when they are so weak that they may well have died anyway. Foxes will eat lambs, but only if they can catch them when their mum is not around.
During a drought in a degraded landscape the cattle may walk 5-10kms from water in order to try and find corners of the paddock where some palatable (edible) perennial (long lived) plants remain. So a cow could be walking between 10-20km/day. If the cows are unfortunate enough to have a calf at this time, the calf will not have the strength to travel such long distances each day. The cow will leave her calf and walk into water, leaving the calf unprotected. And that is when they get eaten by dingos. Cows are not stupid though, and they will often leave a nursery of 4 or 5 calves with one cow, who will water at a different time. But this is only a limited defence against a hungry dingo, and it will get its meal if it tries hard enough. One cow cannot protect 5 calves for long.
We believe the reason that we have had no attacks on Wooleen is because our vegetation is starting to recover, and we always ensure that there is plenty of feed within a few kilometre radius of a water point during drought. This doesn’t mean that all of our country has recovered sufficiently for this, but we will move the cattle to a better location if necessary. Calves can then follow their mothers into water and back out again, being protected all the time. Even if the cows insist on leaving their calves behind when they go to water, they are back again to collect them much sooner. Having weak cattle and vulnerable calves teaches dingos that they can take calves, and they will be much more inclined to try. Having healthy cattle and protected calves means that dingos don’t even know that they could be on the menu.
Of course we are not dealing with a mathematical formula there, we are dealing with animals with minds of their own. Anything can and will happen, and that is where our job as land managers comes in. We don’t imagine that everything will run perfectly smoothly, because it never does for long on a station. We will need to manage our dingos as we need to manage our cattle, and we are quite prepared to do that.
The very high end of recorded mortality of cattle due to dingo predation is around 10-15%. So that’s the worst it can get. This figure needs to be compared to the situation we had in the 1990s, where kangaroos were exerting 49% of the grazing pressure, and goats a further 12% – that’s a combined grazing pressure of 61%. Wooleen had 14,000 sheep in the 1990s, who exerted the remaining 39% of the grazing pressure. So no matter how you look at it, even if the landscape is degraded and in drought and you are losing 15% of calves to dingos, from a pure business perspective you’re still ahead because you can run twice as many cattle in the space left by the absence of goats and kangaroos.
Of course I would not advocate that anybody actually do that. I would suggest a much better course of action for the long term would be to run the same amount of cattle, and use the space in grazing pressure to recover the land from historic overgrazing. That way you can begin to drought proof your business, by having enough long lived plants to keep cattle well fed all through the drought.
Dingos and Goats.
Dingos and goats is a complicated one. The effect that dingos have on goats is not that complicated though, rest assured that the dingos will kill every one of them. And they will do it surprisingly quickly. When dingos first returned to Wooleen in the mid-2000s it was not uncommon to find 10-20-30 dead goats in a line along the banks of the Murchison River. They were not eating them, just killing them, mostly the younger animals. The fact that they were not being eaten was used as an example by many for their un-dingo like behaviour, and stories abounded of packs of 30 dogs, everything from Jack Russel sized to Great Danes, a marauding snarling melee.
But I saw the tracks left by these animals and there was never more than three dogs causing such devastation. Furthermore two of the dogs paw prints were smaller in size, and most likely the pups of the larger print. But why were they killing so many goats and not eating them? Generally dingos are known to only kill one animal and eat it. But we are not comparing apples with apples in this situation. The natural prey of the dingo is the kangaroo. A much faster animal than the goat. Dingos can’t catch two kangaroos, they are too fast and by the time the dingo has caught one it is well and truly puffed out.
Furthermore it will be a few kilometres away from where it starting the chase, because it takes that far for a dingo to catch a kangaroo. So apart from being puffed out, all the kangaroos that might have been with the one that was caught have vacated the scene long ago, and are no longer in sight. It’s not the same with goats. Catching a goat would be incredibly easy if you were used to catching kangaroos. So when a dingo catches one, it isn’t puffed out at all. It looks up and sees the rest of the mob escaping not far away. It can go and catch another one, and that is the natural reaction of any dog. But after catching two it’s still not puffing much, so it goes and catches another one, and so on until it gets tired, which in the case of a dingo bitch and its two pups could be 30 goats out of a mob of fifty.
The complication regarding dingos and feral goats arises out of whether you think that they are a pest or a resource. Because goats are worth a fair bit of money. They are sold for meat, which is mainly consumed overseas. Money from goats paid for my school fees. Perhaps my education relied on them, who knows. The average price of a saleable goat when the dingos came back was around $20-30. We used to catch about 2000 saleable goats every year. So that’s between $40,000-60,000 per year. For a cash strapped business that is a lot of money, and everybody in this district did everything that they could to try and get as many goats as they could.
They almost seemed like free money. Of course you had to put the effort in to catch them but it was a bit of a lottery every time. The thing about goats was, you never knew how many you were going to get. Goats do not respect the conventional fences we had for containing sheep or cattle. There was nothing stopping them from being on one side of the boundary fence in the morning and finishing on the other side in the evening. Accusations arose periodically that somebody or other had flown their plane onto someone else’s property, scared the goats over the boundary and guided them into a yard on their side. Nobody could prove that the goats hadn’t wandered over of their own accord. They weren’t tagged, and essentially belonged to no-one. They were just feral goats, roaming around as they pleased. One month there might be 100 goats at a particular windmill, the next month 500. People devised strategies for when the best time to catch them was. Some people used to muster goats when the neighbour was mustering his sheep, because that scared the goats of his property and onto yours. But then the opposite happened when you mustered your property. Community musters were organised in the Murchison to pay for community projects. The feral goat was a celebrated thing.
But they were also a false economy. In fact goats are considered by the WA Department of Agriculture to be in the same category of pest animal that wild dogs are. The negative effect that goats have on the landscape far outweighed the quick cash that could be gained by selling them.
This is for two reasons. Firstly, you can’t control them. You can build a fence that contains a goat but it is much too expensive to be practical in our rangelands. Feral goats wander at will, and generally congregate in areas such as river floodplains where the best feed is. This makes it extraordinarily difficult to manage such areas and even harder to recover them if they are degraded. If you can’t manage the animals in the landscape, then you are kidding yourself to say that you are managing it at all. Its fine to take the cattle or sheep out of a paddock and say that you are giving it a rest, but if the paddock just fills up with goats (and kangaroos – which we will get to soon) then it is not getting a rest at all. And that is exactly what happens. The small reduction in grazing left by the absence of managed stock may well increase the amount of feed initially, but the goats will find out about it and tell their mates you can be sure. Essentially, in a landscape where wild goats are prevalent the land can never be rested.
The second reason that feral goats are such a problem is their eating habits. The saying that goats will eat the washing off the line is perfectly true. They will eat anything. This is what we term non-selective grazing. Goats will eat many plants that other animals wont, and I’m sure that they don’t have tastebuds (that’s a joke – they do of course). The best example of this non-selective grazing habit is the gumtrees that line the Murchison River. They are iconic around Australia and I’m sure everybody knows the ones that I mean. There are a few different sorts, but I’m especially referring to the ones with brilliant white trunks. The ones that we have on Wooleen are very old, hundreds of years in fact, even though they might not be very big.
They can be seen in all riparian areas on Wooleen but the curious thing was that there were no new ones growing anywhere. In fact, it was a long time before I realised that there had been no new trees for a very long time indeed. In fact, I now realise that there had been no new generation of these gumtrees since white settlement 130 years ago. Very few had slipped past of the attention of grazing herbivores since that time. Originally it had probably been the very large numbers of very hungry sheep that had made sure none had survived past a freshly germinated seedling, but sheep don’t really like gumtrees, because they taste like eucalyptus oil. The one animal that does seem quite partial to them are feral goats. I have followed a mob of goats at a discrete distance and watched them feed. While it seemed as though much better feed was available all around them, they concentrated on the baby gumtrees and moved from one to the other.
Now gumtrees, like most valuable plants out here, grow very slowly. A ten year old gumtree might, given a good run of seasons, reach a height that puts some of it foliage above the reach of goats, but only if the top of it is not nipped off during those ten years. Gumtrees germinate every time the river flows, thousands of them. But the chance of a gumtree reaching maturity with goats present is practically zero. One sapling might go unnoticed in the summer of its first year, concealed by another plant maybe. But it’s very unlikely to escape notice again the next year. Or the year after that. It has to escape notice for ten years in a row, and that’s never going to happen. Consequently, until dingos reappeared in our landscape, around 2006, no new generations of these beautiful trees were being recruited. And it’s not just that they are beautiful, they are the anchor points for the soil that makes the river floodplain the best grazing country. Without them to slow the water down and distribute it over the floodplain our land will become a shadow of its former productive self.
And the goats need to take most of the blame for our previous lack of new trees. Because it’s not just Wooleen that now has hundreds of baby (10 year old) gumtrees lining the banks of the river.
It’s every station that now has dingos.
Dingos and Kangaroos
There are many more kangaroos and wallabies in Australia now than there were before white settlement. This is widely accepted, and I won’t go into the statistics, because I rarely come across somebody who doesn’t realise that this is the case. Even foreigners believe it. But the reason is much more obscure. I have grown up believing that this increase in numbers was because there is now more water, in the form of man-made watering points such as windmills, and dams. This made sense to me because when its fifty two degrees in the shade out here in the middle of summer, it’s hard to imagine anything surviving without water. I was told recently that this is not the actual reason for skyrocketing kangaroo numbers.
Kangaroo numbers have increased dramatically since white settlement not because of access to water, but because of the disappearance of their natural predator, the dingo. Increased access to water favours, if anything, the dingo over the kangaroo. A dingo that must exert itself to catch a kangaroo needs to drink more often than a kangaroo going about its daily business. Since dingos have come back to Wooleen there has been a dramatic drop in kangaroo numbers. You would expect to see a kangaroo within 5 minutes of leaving the homestead ten years ago, even in the daytime. Nowadays it may take 4 hours.
In June of 2010 I shot 3340 kangaroos on 4000 hectares in 56 hours. We were three years into the destocking and the grass on the Wooleen lake was recovering well, albeit slowly. Recent rains meant that kangaroos were on the move and they found the new grass very much to their liking. I estimate that the total number of kangaroos just on the Wooleen Lake would have been over 20,000. We had a fulltime kangaroo shooter and he shot 1500 of the largest kangaroos in that month. Although at least one Dingo had been seen in the area in the previous year, it was well and truly outnumbered, if it was still there at all. I kept thinking of all the pastoralists who had told me that destocking was a waste of time, the Kangaroos and Goats would just eat it all anyway. I was starting to think they were right. The smell of rotting kangaroos could be detected 3 kilometres away at the homestead, and eagles started building nests all around the Wooleen Lake to cash in on the carrion bonanza.
Fortunately, it kept raining and fresh green shoots started to emerge everywhere, and the kangaroos dispersed to eat it. Fresh green shoots are better feed than tough perennial grasses. It was a difficult time for us, because we were at a financial low point and it shook our rehabilitation ethos to the core. How would we cope with attacks like that every few years? What would have happened if it hadn’t keep raining, and we had been left with 20,000 kangaroos, with more pouring in every day? The bullets alone cost me $3500. Which is ironic because that is the amount that I am forced to pay every year to my local Regional “Biosecurity” Group who spends all of the considerable sum that they receive on Dingo baits.
Up until the re-emergence of the dingos we had no effective management strategy for the control of kangaroos. We always had professional kangaroo’s shooters, but they couldn’t even keep up with the natural increase in the population. The only time the kangaroo numbers took a dive was when horrible infectious diseases like “lumpy jaw” took hold during droughts and were exacerbated by diseased kangaroos dribbling into troughs from their swollen faces. Sometimes they wouldn’t even register that a car had driven up next to them. They wouldn’t move as we euthanized them, before dragging them away from the trough.
Unlike the feral goats, kangaroos are not going to disappear altogether. As mentioned earlier they are much harder for a dingo to catch. If dingos were able to catch them all they would have done it thousands of years ago when dingos first came to Australia.
Dingos and native animals
There is an argument favoured by some in the anti-dog campaign that dingos eat native animals, especially endangered ones, and are therefore bad for biodiversity. It is laughable, and almost entirely incorrect. Almost. Of course dingos will eat anything that they find that is edible, and if they are lucky enough to find and catch one of the few remaining small native animals that are still getting around then of course they will eat it. But take the case of small native marsupials. There are of scores of animals that used to be common on Wooleen that cannot be found within 600kms of here now, and even now very few remain. Many are entirely extinct and it wasn’t because of dingos, who they have coexisted with for thousands of years. The few that do remain in existence can only be found where? Living inside the dingo stronghold, the deserts of central Australia. Why are they still able to live there? Because they are protected by the dingo from predation by cats and foxes.
We used to have many foxes out here, we used to go shooting them as kids. It would be rare not to find one on any given night. My record was 31 foxes in one night with my little 22 rifle, going from one muddy pool to another where sheep were stuck during a dry time. I would shoot a few foxes at each, and drag the sheep from the mud. Some of the sheep would be exhausted from the effort, and would never get up again. The dead and dying sheep would attract more foxes for the next nights shooting. But I haven’t seen a fox on Wooleen for years now. Dingos are very good at killing foxes.
Dingos are not so good at killing cats because cats climb trees, but I still think dingos are the best defence that we have against feral cats. My dogs chase feral cats if they find them which almost always ends up with the cat up the tree, and I then shoot it. My dogs have caught cats before however, which shows that dingos almost certainly do as well. They would certainly make it harder for a cat to operate in any given area and perhaps be a major predator of kittens. Often cats hide under troughs and wait for birds to land on the edge of the trough, taking an easy meal. But troughs are very exposed and I wouldn’t want to be a cat under a trough with a dingo nearby.
Maybe it’s just the absence of foxes or maybe it’s a combination of cats and foxes, but we have seen a very good recovery of certain species since dingos have returned. This is particularly true of turtles, whose once rare tracks in the riverbeds can now be seen in abundance every time it rains. Swans now nest on the edge of the lake or in the riverbank where before they were confined to islands where foxes couldn’t, or didn’t want to wade. The swans are most noticeable because they have huge nests but the effect for smaller ground nesting birds would be much greater. One or two Dingos seems to be able to keep hundreds of foxes out of an area of tens of square kilometres. And that gives the birds and their nests a much better chance of going undetected.
Foxes, feral cats, unmanaged goats, rabbits and feral Pigs are all listed as key threatening processes by the (National) Department of the Environment and Energy. In case you’re wondering what that means:
“A threatening process is defined as a key threatening process if it threatens or may threaten the survival, abundance or evolutionary development of a native species or ecological community.”
There are only 21 key threatening processes listed on the website. Dingos completely nullify two of them, goats and foxes. We don’t have pigs and I’m sceptical about dingos effects on our rabbits, but but dingos would certainly work to control those populations. Dingos are currently our only defence against cats. And before you say that there are poison baits for cats, you try and obtain one. It’s impossible, I’ve tried. I can get literally thousands of dingo baits, which cats won’t eat, but with the same active poison with no limitations at all. In fact it may prove illegal for me not to do so, and yet I can’t get one cat bait out of the (state) Department of Parks and Wildlife.
Wild dogs are not listed as a key threatening process.
Dingos and Sheep
Unfortunately, dingos will eat all of the sheep, just as they will eat all the goats. There is really no difference to a dingo. So how can I justify our stance on dingos when they are detrimental to the sheep industry? Do I not feel a moral duty of care to control that which is so damaging to my neighbours? Well of course I do, but there is a much greater duty of care that also needs to be considered. That is the duty of care that I owe to the land which I manage for the Australian people.
This land is degraded, and it has been since the 1930s, in some areas even earlier. There is no scientific evidence that it is not degraded, all of the evidence clearly shows that it is. People who insist that the land is not degraded have no understanding of the history of pastoralism in this region, landscape ecology, landscape function or probably science in general and are probably not fit to be managing the land at all. Personally, I believe that the productive capacity of the land has been reduced by over 80%, and I’m certainly not alone there. The question is whether it can be recovered. It is my ambition to recover that productive capacity on Wooleen specifically, and the rangelands in general, if I can. This is exactly the same thing as drought proofing. We live in a land of frequent drought and yet it seems we have no effective means of dealing with them, or recovering from them. Which is, of course, why the land is degraded in the first place.
The situation we are in has, in no uncertain terms, been caused by overgrazing. Overgrazing in a drought has had the biggest impact, but overgrazing in general should not be discounted either. But not all of this overgrazing has been caused by sheep and cattle. In fact most of it probably hasn’t been. In 1990 it was estimated by the Australian Nature Conservancy and supported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics that 49% of the grazing pressure was being exerted by Kangaroos. A further 12% was being exerted by goats. That means 61% of the grazing pressure was being exerted by unmanaged grazers. Pastoralists at the time called for an eradication program for goats, because the market for goat meat was not very lucrative.
Going back further to the 1941 Fyfe Royal Commission into the “Financial and Economic Position of the Pastoral Industry in the Leasehold Areas in Western Australia”, pastoralists were asked what vermin were seriously affecting their earning capacity. In the Sheep-producing areas, 77 pastoralists replied that they were seriously affected by dingos, but 110 pastoralists replied that they were seriously affected by kangaroos. Clearly, plague numbers of kangaroos is not a new phenomenon.
As a manager of a pastoral property in the Southern Rangelands, Total Grazing Pressure has always been the major issue, unless you count lack of rainfall. Which you shouldn’t, you should just move to an area with higher rainfall. It’s not just the fact that the grazing pressure is higher, it’s also that you can’t manage where the grazing pressure is. The 61% of the grazing pressure exerted by unmanaged animals was not spread out evenly over the landscape, it was predominantly in the most productive areas such as river floodplains. So not only was there more grazing pressure, but they were eating out the best bits first.
I have zero effective means of controlling kangaroos without dingos. That’s 49% of the Total Grazing Pressure that I cannot control. That in itself is enough to make sure that my business will struggle to function into the future, and also make it impossible to regain the 80% productive capacity of the land that we have already lost. A further 12% to goats assures my business of eventually failing. While I might make some money out of harvesting goats, the fact that I can’t control where they graze means that I will continue to lose the productive capacity of my best land.
I would like to achieve a rest-based cattle grazing system. In this system the land always gets a rest after grazing, with enough time for forage plants to recover from that grazing. I consider this to be an essential foundation to a sustainable grazing enterprise. In my opinion, the old model of “set stocking” (spreading out stock evenly everywhere all the time) has proven over the last 130 years not to work.
A rest base grazing system relies on the land being rested. This is impossible in the midst of unmanaged grazers. I do not believe that I can manage or recover my land for the future without control over the Total Grazing Pressure. Dingos are the only effective tool I have for controlling kangaroos and goats.
If this seems to make a lot of sense to you don’t worry, is does to a lot of other pastoralists running cattle as well. Some of them see the benefits of dingos, and like me, they are purposefully not killing them. But neither are they talking about it, except in very small circles where they know that no sheep producers are listening. And that is the problem. Sheep producers think that everybody is doing everything they can to control dingos, but they are not. It’s not just because they might see the value of dingos, sometimes they just don’t care. There is not a large degree of dingo predation on their cattle herd so why bother running around exterminating every last dingo? They might throw out a few baits every now and then just to appease the sheep producers that they know, but there is no great compulsions to go to the sort of lengths that sheep producers go to try and exterminate dingos. And so the dingo prosper.
There is also a lot of land that is not actively managed at all. 28 whole and 32 parts of stations were bought by the Department of Parks and Wildlife for conservation in WA, and has resulted in them being essentially abandoned. Absentee owners, national parks and vacant crown land are all havens for dingos. The only management for dingos is the occasional fly over from a plane dropping poison baits, but the landscape is much too large and the flyover much too infrequent for this to be an effective control measure.
Baits, incidentally, are not considered to be that effective a means for controlling dingos anyway. Even by many people who are hell bent on killing dingos. The strength of a bait is designed to be inactivated by rainfall. The poison dissolves in water. So if you get a bit of rainfall on a bait, enough to weaken its effect, but not enough to neutralise it completely, then you have a recipe for teaching dogs never to touch a bait again. It eats the bait, and gets the bellyache of a lifetime, but doesn’t die and recovers quickly. You can be sure that it will never touch a bait again. That is why some dingos prosper in areas that are regularly baited.
If it seems as though I’m trying to shift the blame for not controlling the dingos away from myself and onto others, I think we need to look at the layout of pastoral properties in Western Australia. Wooleen is located in the south-west corner of the pastoral region. We are only three properties (About 80kms) away from the closest farming country. Conversely, we are 10 properties (380 kms) away from where the pastoral properties stop in the desert. The Desert is where the dingos have come from. In order to get to us they have had to travel through 9 cattle stations and 1 abandoned DPAW property. That’s assuming they went in a dead straight line. There are nearly 600kms of pastoral properties to the north of me. Everyone, bar perhaps two, went into cattle before we did, some changed to cattle before I was born. I think it’s clear that I’m not the only one who isn’t that worried about dingos.
I have one neighbour that runs sheep, and he bought the property last year as a cattle property, and restocked it with sheep. As far as I can see there is only one solution for him if he continues to run sheep, and that is if a dingo-proof fence is built between him and me. I will not and cannot pay for it. I doubt if he can afford it either. There is a push from pastoral sheep producers to build such a fence, but who will pay for it is uncertain as the government do not seem willing. They instead argue that cattle producers like me should do their bit for protecting sheep producers. But why would we if it’s not in our best interests? Why would I exterminate the dingos if I don’t think I could recover the land without them?
The pastoral lands board sent pastoralists a letter on 21 July 2012 concerning the ‘ongoing problem of wild dogs’ and stated that “some leaseholders may not be managing the problem to the satisfaction of the board”. It stipulated that under both the Land Administration Act, and the Agriculture and Related Resources Protection Act lessees must control declared animals. It went on to say that the possible fine from both Acts combined totaled $70,000, with a daily penalty of $1000, as well as possible forfeiture of their pastoral lease. Ironically, foxes, feral cats, feral goats, feral pigs, and rabbits are also declared animals, but they weren’t mentioned.
Everybody got this letter, I imagine. Which is why no pastoralist has anything nice to say about dingos. If I have a duty of care to sheep producers, and I strongly believe that I do, then it is to speak out about dingos. To confirm what they must know already, that as a cattle producer I am not nearly as concerned with exterminating dingos as they are. To inform them that Dingos are in fact an integral part of my business, and what I consider to be an essential tool for recovering my degraded land, and developing an appropriate grazing system for it. My duty of care is much greater to the recovery and sustainable use of this resource, than it is to their sheep. For that I am sorry, but I don’t see another alternative.
Nonetheless, I support the protection of their business with a dingo-proof fence, even if my taxes have to pay for it. There must be a fence somewhere, or small stock in Western Australia will remain under threat, and they will be fighting the dingos forever. To continue as we are means that the agony for sheep producers will be prolonged indefinitely. I urge the government to help in this regard, and I hope that this discourse will make them realise that their current stance is an untenable one.