Big gaps still remain in the Australian beef industry’s scientific and practical understanding about the impact of wild dogs on the production and processing sectors, and possible control options.
That was one of the messages to emerge from a presentation on wild dog management issues delivered to a group of industry stakeholders in Brisbane recently.
Dr Peter Fleming is the leader of Invasive Animals CRC projects on strategic management of wild dogs, developing genetic technologies for invasive animal monitoring and stakeholder training. He is based at the Orange Agricultural Institute in NSW.
His current work has strong application in day-to-day responses by stakeholders responsible for managing invasive animals across Australia.
One of his current projects is in NSW’s northeast, where the CRC has established a wild dog management demonstration site.
“The whole idea is to get democratic, strategic management going, where stakeholders can work collaboratively across different jurisdictions, rather than independently,” he said.
“The outcome is a regional strategic action plan, which is all about getting different groups of people with different priorities together to devise a plan that actually works. In some cases it could involve conservation, and in others control of dogs.”
The method being used is called ‘passive adaptive’ management.
‘Adaptive’ simply means using and implementing actions based on currently available information, monitoring the results, and using that information to further improve the process.
“It’s a very simple process, but unfortunately we don’t use it as much as we should in managing feral pests,” Dr Fleming said.
“It also provides a great framework to do research, because of the range of stakeholders collaborating in the work. The current project extends from Scone in NSW all the way into southeast Queensland.”
Some of the current research efforts include looking at the effectiveness of barrier fencing, the use of sheep-guarding dogs like Marramas, and a concept called meso-predator release.
The term, ‘wild dogs’ for the purposes of the research extends from purebred dingoes, to hybrids carrying both dingo and domestic dog genetics, and even populations of feral domestic dogs in some locations. DNA testing on several thousand animals has shown that most of the dogs in southeastern Australia are now hybrids, while in central and northern Australia, most are still pure dingo. Home-ranges vary from 10sq km in the southeast, to more than 70sq km in the Kimberley.
There are a range of control and management solutions either in place, or under development:
- Baiting is usually done with 1080, either aerially distributed or from the ground.
- The M44 ejector device can be used to deliver a number of toxins. It uses a bait which when disturbed, delivers as lethal dose into the mouth. It is regarded as more target-specific than 1080, and does not degrade over time.
- Trapping and shooting – not a primary control method, but is used mostly as an adjunct or targeting particular dogs
- Fencing – in addition to extensive public dog fencing programs, there are also examples of extensive private-sector dog-proof fencing schemes in place.
So what needs to be done, research wise, to better manage the wild dog challenge?
Dr Fleming said it was important to cultivate a national adaptive management approach, which was already underway.
This project aims to use a cross-tenure strategy – looking at the problem or issue from the perspective of the target animal – not from that of the local property owner or national park.
Control or conservation programs are then devised based on development of better monitoring methods and range-area assessment. That could help stop the ‘blame-game’ between landholders and conservation interests, for example. Similar principles could apply across state borders.
“The keys to having an adaptive wild dog management framework are to define the problem and to monitor interventions so that what is being done is effective. Analysing the monitoring becomes part of the research itself,” Dr Fleming said.
Other priorities are:
- developing better monitoring methods and movement studies, which could help better define management programs
- more tools for the control ‘toolbox’, such as the development of PAPP, a humane but potent toxin which has a similar effect to carbon monoxide poisoning (which importantly has an antidote for accidental poisoning of companion animals); lethal trap devices; and livestock-guarding animals like Marrama dogs, alpacas and even donkeys.
- further research into the control effectiveness of these and other management options.
- assessing what impact wild dog management interventions might have on environmental values, both positive and negative: for example, determining what impact wild dogs have in the control of foxes, cats, roos and wallabies; and whether they impact on threatened fauna. Much more work needed to be done in this area in different environments and dog densities.
Dr Fleming said it was important to understand local community attitudes to wild dogs before an adaptive management approach could be implemented.
“It’s important to find out first whether the local community is going to come along with you, if you are going to provide them with some assistance,” he said. “There are different views among stakeholders about 1080 baiting for example. In some cases trapping might be more acceptable in an area, than 1080.”
- See separate story, How significant is the wild dog impact?
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