This dry and hot summer has seen more people reporting sightings of dingoes around the dog fence. Fearful of dingo coming further south, some people are unaware of the positive effects dingoes have on the environment and the work Arid Recovery does with dingoes.
The dingo has always caused a great deal of controversy amongst pastoralists, conservationists and the government in Australia. A constant debate of whether they are native or introduced, pest or protect species, it feels like a never ending argument. Represented as ‘cunning killers’ in colonial texts, perceptions are shifting because of conservationists who are working to reveal a different side of the dingo.
Dingo predation and control costs the Australian livestock industry an estimated $48.5M a year. Declared a pest south of the dog fence under the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (NRM Act), it is illegal to keep dingoes unless in possession of a permit and all landholders south of the fence must destroy dingoes on their properties. A 10-30 km buffer zone is regularly baited along the fence with sodium monofluoroacetate (1080) poison baits to reduce the threat of reinvasion.
In contrast, recent studies have promoted the ecological role of dingoes as biodiversity regulators. Removing Australia’s top predator causes red fox and feral cat populations to explode, creating a cascade of indirect effects on the environment. Small vertebrate populations are suppressed from increased fox and cat predation. Studies by Dr. Mike Letnic from the University of New South Wales showed that populations of dunnarts and native rodents thrive in the presence of dingoes. Arid Recovery’s Dingo Project found when they released seven foxes into the Dingo Pen, they were all killed within 17 days by the dingoes.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List has classified the dingo as vulnerable since 1998. The proportion of pure dingoes is declining through hybridization with domestic dogs. DNA studies reveal most wild dogs in south eastern Australia have 95% domestic genes. The result of hybridization has increased the average weight and size of dingoes by 20% in the last 20 years, allowing dingoes to take down livestock they’ve previously undersized. Hybridized dingoes also form larger packs with uncontrolled and more frequent breeding.
DNA evidence has linked dingoes to an Indian migration to Australia 4000 years ago. Australia has been widely thought to be isolated for 40,000 years until a study published in the Journal of PNAS suggests there was a migration from India to Australia 4,230 years ago. This migration coincides with the use of stone-tools, food processing technology and the appearance of the dingo. Another matter of controversy, scientists do not claim the ancestor of the dingo came with Indian migrants, but do not refute the fact that it may be possible. It was largely accepted through DNA evidence that dingoes possess a Southeast Asian origin, however, they closely resemble Indian dogs.
The dingo: kills livestock, protects native animals, threatened by extinction and new evidence makes us question their origin. The dingo is really suffering from an identity crisis. We know dingoes play an important role in managing ecological processes, but how can we capture that knowledge and use it to minimise their impacts on the sheep and cattle industry? More research into different dingo-management strategies is needed so it can benefit landowners, conservationists and most importantly, the Australian Dingo.
Arid Recovery’s Dingo Project is trying to understand the role dingoes play as top order predators of feral species. For more information and past blogs about the study, please see the links below.