Questioning wild-dog control

Monday, May 12, 2014

Regardless of the threat aerial baiting poses to the endangered Spot-tailed Quoll, poisoning wild dogs is still a very questionable solution to sheep losses.

Set out below are arguments against the aerial baiting of dogs, and why it may be that current control programs cause dog numbers to increase.

  • There is still no scientific evidence that supports the claims of aerial baiting being effective, only myth, legend and assumptions. To drop poison from the air is a simplistic and lazy response to a complex problem.
  • Large numbers of baits would have to be dropped across the landscape to achieve effective reduction in dog numbers; particularly given that many baits would be taken by other animals (like bush rats, goannas, magpies, quolls etc as well as introduced cats and foxes) that would eat the baits first. Baits could also end up in waterways.
  • The government has a duty of care regarding toxins being used and their impact. Society is becoming more restricted in using chemicals, so it is crazy to throw poison baits out of the window of an aircraft over miles of country.
  • Baiting disrupts pack dynamics and creates a vacuum for young dogs to move in after the alpha leaders are poisoned. Subordinate dogs start breeding, increasing the population. This means that when baiting starts, it must be continued. Dog populations have a ‘spring-back’ mechanism to account for deaths. That's why there are reports of large packs of dogs coming back after a year or so of control.
  • Large-scale reduction of wild dogs will have a huge impact on the kangaroo, wallaby and wombat populations in SE Australia. Macropod numbers would increase dramatically(remember the Puckapunyal population explosion?). The increased browsing pressure on farms, plantations and regenerating coupes could then see farmers and land managers screaming for wallaby poisoning – as happens in Tasmania.
  • There is anecdotal evidence that numbers of stock killed by dogs are well below the natural mortality rate of sheep (ie death due to natural causes). Dog attacks are more dramatic because the losses tend to happen quickly and all at one time.
  • 1080 poison breaks down with time and if dogs do not take a fresh bait and die outright, a sub-lethal dose can make a dog sick and teach it to be bait-shy in the future. This could ‘bait-proof’ dogs instead of killing them.
  • Many farmers use both alpacas and Maremma livestock guard dogs very effectively to protect sheep.
  • NSW studies into poisoning of native quolls have been carried out where there are relatively large populations of quolls (Badga etc). But in Victoria, quolls are teetering on the brink of extinction and aerial baiting is inappropriate. Even one or two drops of poison meat could take out critical breeders.
  • Trials to prove that aerial baiting will be effective would need to be carried out over the long term and would almost certainly wipe out the sparse quoll populations in areas where dogs are claimed to be a problem.
  • The forests of the North East and Gippsland are the strong-hold of the Spot-tailed Quoll. It is listed under the FFGA and must be protected from all threats including indiscriminate poisoning. The 2003, 2006, 2009 and the 2014 bushfires would have also pushed this species further towards extinction.

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