Seven wild dog trappers have been contracted by the Marshall Government, with the first trapper already on the ground apart of the $1.4 million wild dog program announced in May.
The implementation of the trappers is a part of the Government’s plan to protect South Australia’s $4.7 billion livestock industries.
The Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Tim Whetstone says that for far too long, there has not been enough done to tackle the wild dog problems in South Australia.
“This is one of South Australia’s largest ever coordinated attacks on wild dogs and I am confident this work will substantially reduce the impact of these pests on our $1.9 billion sheep industry.”
“We want to help protect the livelihood of our livestock farmers and the thousands of jobs they support around South Australia.”
Last week, over 25,000 baits covering 31 properties were dropped from a plane inside the dog fence between Coober Pedy and the New South Wales border.
Trappers are being allocated to support land managers who are affected by the dogs, south of the Dog Fence, which at times could see two trappers working concurrently.
As apart of the program, each land manager will need to meet selection criteria including appropriate baiting within the last six months and show evidence that wild dogs still remain on their property.
Minister Whetstone says coordinated baiting, supported by trappers is the only way that the impacts of wild dogs can be substantially reduced, and productivity increased.
“As wild dogs don’t respect borders, we are very pleased that pastoralists in western New South Wales are supporting South Australia’s coordinated program, with landholders in the south-west of NSW set to carry out another round of ground baiting on their own.”
Livestock producers in North and North West Queensland now have access to a Wild Dog specialist to help reduce the impact of wild dogs under a new project co-funded by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).
The project has seen well known pest management coordinator, Brett Carlsson, appointed Senior Wild Dog Co-ordinator for North and North West Queensland, based in Cairns.
Recent estimates of the impact of wild dogs in Queensland alone are near $100 million.
The new role is part of an overall project being funded in a partnership between the Queensland Government’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF), AgForce, MLA Donor Company (MDC), Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), and the western Queensland regional bodies of Remote Area Planning and Development Board (RAPAD) and South West Regional Economic Development Association (SWRED).
In this senior role, Brett will oversee the activities of two additional Wild Dog Coordinators to be recruited for the Central West and South West regions of the State.
The Coordinators will work with landholders, local wild dog committees, councils, and State Government Department of Agriculture and Biosecurity Queensland on wild dog control management programs.
MLA General Manager – Producer Consultation and Adoption, Michael Crowley, said growing wild dog populations are increasingly affecting cattle producers in the north.
“Producers in the northern region may not be aware of recent developments in best practice pest control and planning,” Mr Crowley said.
“These newly funded positions aim to engage producers in best practice control strategies, train them in the use of the most up-to-date tools, encourage adoption of the latest technologies and facilitate the coordination of control programs.
“Brett Carlsson is a veteran of setting up these programs throughout Central and South West Queensland and will be working with producers from the coast across to the Northern Territory border.
“Data collected through the Program will also be valuable in evaluating the extent of the wild dog problem in Queensland.”
Brett Carlsson, who has worked in the pest management industry for 13 years, said the new structure would provide support to landholders to undertake a coordinated approach.
“A lot of wild dog control is happening in the cattle industry but it could be better coordinated to ensure producers are working in groups, sharing the load and having a greater impact on wild dog populations,” Mr Carlsson said.
“Sheep are more susceptible to wild dog attacks and so support has traditionally been focused on sheep production areas. However, wild dogs impact the cattle industry in a number of ways.
“Calves are obviously at risk from dog attacks, but reducing dog numbers will result in less cattle with bite marks and other injuries, and less stress to livestock, particularly calving heifers.
“Beyond the physical impacts, wild dogs have been implicated in the spread of parasitic diseases, such as Hydatid disease and Neosporosis.
“If we can reduce dog numbers, and I know we can, then we can reduce the impacts and producers should start to see a change with potentially more calves on the ground and improved animal welfare.”
National Wild Dog Management Coordinator Greg Mifsud, whose role sits within the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, said this collaborative funding effort by industry and government would lead to improved capacity of landholders to implement best practice, integrated control strategies.
“Upskilling and supporting producers and their communities to responsibly and humanely manage vertebrate pests will return multiple social, economic and environmental benefits,” Mr Mifsud said.
“Across northern Australia, sheep numbers had fallen significantly in recent years while reports of wild dog predation on cattle had increased.
“By working together and using the right control tools for the situation effectively, producers and other stakeholders can achieve a sustainable future for the red meat industry that supports biodiversity and the environment.”
The Project is not MLA’s only investment in wild dog research, development and adoption. MLA is a co-funder of the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, following significant investment over the past 12 years in the previous Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre.
Is it too late to bring the red fox under control?
The red fox may be the most destructive species ever introduced to Australia. For a start, it carries most of the blame for Australia’s appalling record of recent mammal extinctions.
Since European settlement, mainland Australia has lost at least 20 mammal species, far more than any other country over the same time period. Mostly these were bandicoots, bilbies, rat-kangaroos, quolls and hare-wallabies, along with relatively large rodents. Over vast areas of southern mainland Australia there are simply none of these medium-sized native mammals left - just seemingly limitless numbers of foxes and rabbits.
Did the fox act alone to cause these extinctions, or did it have help? Maybe other pressures - like competition from rabbits, changed fire regimes, or unknown diseases - were also important. The evidence, however, points consistently to foxes as the dominant cause. If other factors contributed it was probably by amplifying the predation pressure from foxes on native prey species. The European rabbit, for example, had an important subsidiary role by boosting fox numbers, and keeping them high even as native prey crashed to extinction.
The fox is also a significant pest to agriculture, mainly through preying on lambs and poultry. It can spread disease to domestic animals, and would be a carrier of rabies if that disease ever got into Australia (which is a distinct possibility). The combined environmental and agricultural impacts of foxes, and the effort expended on attempts to reduce that impact, probably costs Australia more than $200 million each year.
But it could all have been so different. A brilliant piece of historical research by Ian Abbott shows how difficult it was to introduce the fox to Australia. Victorian settlers, who were keen to indulge the “noble sport of fox-hunting”, released foxes on many occasions, beginning in the 1840s. Some early releases were evidently quite serious attempts to establish wild populations, such as a liberation of a group of at least six foxes in the Dandenong Ranges in 1864.
Released animals were rarely, if ever, seen again. They may have been killed by hunters or dingoes, or they might have taken poison baits that were laid for dingoes and stray dogs. In any case, they did not establish viable populations.
It was not until about 1874 that a fox population finally took off, on the Werribee Park property of the wealthy Chirnside family. From that point the fox was unstoppable. Despite all attempts at control it swept like an avenging fire through all of the southern half of Australia in just a few decades.
This history nicely illustrates an important biological principle. Small, newly introduced populations face a high intrinsic likelihood of going extinct. The small numbers of animals in such populations might be hard to find, but even poorly targeted control efforts can be useful if they increase those individuals’ risk of death, and therefore make it even more likely that the population will go extinct.
The Tasmanian State Government is attempting to push this population towards extinction using broad-scale poison baiting. This is controversial, but is the most sensible response to the risk that foxes will do to the Tasmanian environment what they have already done to mainland Australia.
As with any other well-established invasive species, it is very hard to turn back the clock and reduce the impact of foxes. Trapping and shooting generally have little effect on population size unless they are done intensively in well-defined areas where rates of re-invasion are low. Bounty schemes set up to encourage broad-scale fox removal by shooters, such as the program recently established by the Victorian State Government, are likely to be ineffective and wasteful.
There are four control options that can produce sustained reductions of fox impact.
First, poison baiting using 1080 can give good results, because foxes readily take poison baits. There is a particular advantage in the use of 1080 to protect wildlife from fox predation in Australia, because while foxes are highly susceptible to this toxin, native Australian mammals are much less so because it occurs naturally in some Australian plants. A drawback is that reduction in fox abundance can result in increased feral cats (which are also susceptible to 1080 but generally do not take baits), because foxes aggressively suppress cats. For some prey species, cats are just as significant a threat as foxes, or more so.
Fencing can be used to exclude foxes from high-value areas such as nature reserves, although the investment needed to protect large areas in this way is huge.
Livestock guardian dogs, such as the maremma sheepdog, have proved their worth in protecting livestock from many species of predators, including foxes. Guardian dogs have even been used to keep foxes away from seabird colonies in southern Victoria.
Finally, in some situations dingoes can reduce populations of both foxes and feral cats. They do this partly by hunting and killing them. Intriguingly, dingoes have been recorded killing foxes and cats but not eating their victims, as if the killing was motivated by simple malice. This is a good thing, because it means that foxes and cats fear and avoid dingoes, so that habitats in which dingoes are active can serve as refuges for prey species that are especially vulnerable to both foxes and cats.
Its a widespread problem, costing farmers thousands and cruelly killing young stock regularly.
According to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, wild dogs are costing farmers and governments up to $67 million a year. Three Rivers Helicopters owner and operator Lloyd Davidson has been battling the issue from the sky.
His company holds the right accreditations needed to aerially shoot wild dogs.
From above, Mr Davidson has seen firsthand the terrible effects wild dogs are having on farmers.
"Their calving rate would normally be towards 70-80%, but it has been brought back to about 40% for some of them," he said.
When wild dogs are "thick", he has helped cull up to 26 wild dogs within hours on a single property.
A DAF spokeswoman said the sheep industry in western Queensland was particularly hard hit.
Mr Davidson, who has been flying for about 10 years, said aerial shooting, with the combination of baiting and trapping, was making a difference in reducing the wild dog population.
"I have noticed a big difference in some parts," he said.
Mr Davidson described aerial shooting as extremely effective.
"Professional trappers and shooters do a great job. But when there is a pack of four dogs, they maybe get one or two. Then the others get gun shy," he said.
"We have a better strike rate from above."
The bird's-eye view of the land allows Mr Davidson and the shooter to see more places than on the ground.
"Farmers will tell me where they have noticed three or four, and point me in the right direction. But we end up coming back after killing 70-80," he said.
Mr Davidson said he would like to see more government funding allocated to combating the wild dog problem.
"Some of the times the farmers just have to come up with the money out of their own pocket," he said.
The term "wild dog" refers collectively to purebred dingoes, dingo hybrids and domestic dogs that have escaped or been deliberately released.
In Queensland, wild dogs create a number of economic, environmental and social problems - part