Dingo doing more than its share to protect native species

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

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The dingo is an unpaid pest species manager that works every day, yet they continue to be killed in large numbers.

The dingo has an essential role in suppressing feral cat populations.

Conservation science is increasingly pointing to the importance of dingoes as our top order mammalian predator, helping to control both introduced red foxes and feral cats, and fulfilling critical ecosystem functions. 

In turn this means that dingoes play an equally important role in protecting a long list of threatened and non-threatened Australian species, preyed upon in almost incomprehensible numbers by these feral interlopers. And yet we continue to kill dingoes in large numbers even though a recent CSIRO analysis describes the dingo as "near threatened".

Among the growing list of scientific papers calling for a rethink on how we manage dingo populations, field work funded by Humane Society International and undertaken by Aaron Greenville, of the School of Biological Sciences at Sydney University, in 2014, has also clearly shown the positive outcomes of dingo predation on feral animals. As Greenville notes, "The dingo is an unpaid pest species manager that works every day".

Humane Society International recently stressed the essential role of the dingo in suppressing feral cat populations in our submission to the Commonwealth government's draft "Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by Feral Cats", in which we state, "The weight of scientific evidence is now sufficient to warrant the establishment of a dingo predator re-wilding program as a broad-scale, cost-effective way of suppressing both cats and foxes to the benefit of literally hundreds of species of native wildlife. While it is fair to say that success of such a program is far from certain, its prospects are far more attractive than continued broad-scale 1080 baiting, which, although cheap, lacks evidence of effectiveness".

The Commonwealth's final feral cat plan did not fully reflect our advice, and nor did Canberra agree to assess our scientific nomination to list the dingo under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Protection Act (EPBC Act), responding that there was insufficient population data to make such an assessment. The Victorian government, however, has now listed the dingo as a threatened species, and the recovery/conservation plans that listing under the Commonwealth's EPBC Act could trigger would be a significant move forward.

The CSIRO dingo analysis estimated a population figure of greater than 10,000 mature individuals in Australia, all threatened by hybridisation, habitat loss, poisoning, trapping and shooting, noting that the rate of decline in "pure" dingoes, "may approach 30 per cent in 18 years (three generations) across all of Australia, and is ongoing". It also notes that lethal control programs, widespread across the country, are largely ineffective, and yet we continue to spend millions of dollars every year on such programs because bureaucracies and graziers are simply addicted to killing. It's what has always been done and so that's what will continue to be done – regardless of scientific evidence or the obvious conservation imperative. But there are better ways to protect livestock and conserve dingoes.

What's becoming clear to us is that a major side effect of the killing is the significantly increased risk posed to threatened species that occur in areas wherever the dingo is subject to lethal controls. Not only that, but increased risk to livestock as well, with research showing that intact dingo packs are able to hunt traditional prey, whereas individuals from fractured packs, due to lethal control programs, tend to be more opportunistic.

We need a national dingo recovery/conservation plan initiated by the Commonwealth that recognises this iconic mammal's natural, indigenous and cultural importance to Australia; that incorporates alternative and humane mechanisms for managing livestock conflicts; that seeks to maintain the dingo's keystone role in Australian ecosystems; and consequently contributes to the recovery of our growing list of threatened native animals.

Michael Kennedy is the campaign director of the Humane Society International (Australia)

 

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