Leaving dingoes as top dog means more grass cover in paddocks: research

Leaving dingoes alone means more grass cover in paddocks: research

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TOP DOG: Leaving dingoes as the apex predator keeps other downwards pressure on kangaroos and introduced predators such as cats and foxes, the study suggests. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

TOP DOG: Leaving dingoes as the apex predator keeps other downwards pressure on kangaroos and introduced predators such as cats and foxes, the study suggests. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

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The findings echo the results of the reintroduction of wolves into America's famous Yellowstone National Park, which saw elk numbers decrease and grazing decrease.

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A NEW study suggests the controversial strategy of leaving dingoes alone keeps kangaroo populations in check and most grass cover on paddocks.

Researchers from the University of New South Wales looked at landscape on both sides of the dingo proof fence over three decades and found the side with dingoes had more vegetation cover, which indicates removing the apex predator has a significant cascading effect.

The findings echo the results of reintroducing wolves into America's famous Yellowstone National Park, which saw elk numbers and grazing decrease.

Longreach, Queensland, cattle farmer Angus Emmott stopped baiting dingoes about 20 years ago to see if they could help manage the out-of-control kangaroo population, which had boomed "without any predator pressure".

It took four or five years to see results, but once the roo population was decimated by a natural cause - be it disease, drought, flood or fire - Mr Emmott said the dingoes could easily control the population.

"Dingoes love kangaroos - our roo population has reduced by 90 per cent," Mr Emmott said.

"We rarely see roos now. We've got more grass cover, so it's easier to control stock rates and stocking pressure."

Mr Emmott, a director of Farmers for Climate Action, pointed to other peer-reviewed research that found the mainstream dingo management strategies were ineffective.

"The last 50 years of concentrated dingo baiting has left populations fragmented, leading to dingoes avoiding baits and breeding with town dogs, which exacerbates the problem," he said.

"Left alone, they form family groups with an apex male and female, who are the only ones allowed to breed at a rate of one cycle a year - any other pups are killed."

"That stabilises the population, because you only get one family or sometimes two depending on the size of the land."

Mr Emmott admitted the dingoes would "take an odd calf" and maiden heifers had to be mixed up with experienced ones as a precaution, but the additional grass cover more than made up for the loss.

"I no longer spend any time or money on feral control, with better results than others in the district," he said.

However, both Mr Emmott and the UNSW researchers acknowledged dingoes could also devastate sheep farming.

Wool Producers Australia chief executive Jo Hall said it was important to distinguish between dingoes and wild dogs, which were a declared pest.

All landholders had an obligation to control pests on their land, she said.

"It can be a tricky one for producers - once dingoes breed with a wild dog or a town dog, and it's free roaming, they're a wild dog," Ms Hall said.

"It's something the industry grapples with in terms of a control strategy."

She was wary of shifting the problem to neighbouring farms, which could have a "domino effect", and said pest control was only effective when everyone participated.

Meat & Livestock Australia also pointed out how difficult controlling predation by wild dogs was due to the large amount of hybridisation with dingoes.

"Where pure dingoes are mainly found in northern Australia, wild domestic dogs and domestic dogs hybridised with dingoes are mainly found in southern Australia," an MLA spokesperson said.

"Dingoes are subject to various protection laws in different regions. Producers should check with their local rural agencies for control options in their regions."

Both MLA and APW support the Wild Dog Action Plan and the research led by the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions.

Mr Emmott expects a "certain amount of kickback" to his approach to dingoes, but says there were a growing number of people quietly doing the same thing.

"It wont work for everyone, but it can work well for inland Australia pastoral country and cattle stations," he said.

"The main thing is we need a nuanced approach about how we handle these things."

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