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Man’s best friend?

Thursday, 4th January, 2018

The dingo, an apex predator of the Australian Outback. The dingo, an apex predator of the Australian Outback.

By Myles Burt

The dingo is iconic to the Australian landscape, yet the animal is seen as a pest by farmers and as a vicious wild dog by the majority of the public. 

Persecution and culling is widespread however new research suggests that we would be better off leaving the canines be.

The research coordinator for the ‘Dingo for Biodiversity Project’, Adam O’Neill, has spent time with dingoes in his roles as a feral animal eradicator, station manager of Evelyn Downs in South Australia’s far north and the Scotia Sancurary south of Broken Hill. 

Mr O’Neill believes our problems with wild dogs are man-made and an ongoing result from extensive baiting and culling.

According to Mr O’Neill, this treatment destabilises the hierarchies in dingo packs and triggers stress which changes the dogs’ behaviour. 

“All it takes is for one person to go out and kill a dingo and it can have a profound effect on their sociality,” Mr O’Neill said.

Without pack stabilisation, dingoes unnaturally breed with domesticated dogs, creating hybrid wild dogs which are more prone to attack station animals. 

But Mr O’Neill believes the trend could be reverse in one to two years, if people stopped persecuting dingoes. 

“From there the dingo begins to have a family, educate his pups and develop a pack, and all of a sudden he has a claim of a huge territory and he doesn’t let any other dogs into it,” Mr O’Neill said. 

“So you get an instant reduction in numbers and an instant reduction in conflict.

“As soon as you stop killing Dingo’s they basically wipe out wild dogs. Natural selection just takes wild dogs out of the system.”

During his stint managing Evelyn Downs, with fellow dingo researcher and wife Dr Arian Wallach, the pair observed dingoes to see them form stable packs while cattle attacks decreased. 

“By the time we left after two years, there was not a single hybrid to be seen on that joint everything looked 100 per cent pure,” Mr O’Neill said. 

Where Mr O’Neill believes there is an environmental benefit to ending dingo persecution, some researchers can see an added economic benefit for grazier farmers. 

Ecologist Corey Bradshaw and Dr Thomas Prose, who spoke with the BDT in a phone interview yesterday, said their research backed up Mr O’Neill’s claims.  

“Dingoes provide a sort of natural control of a grazing competitor,” Prof. Bradshaw said.

Prof. Bradshaw says even in assuming that Dingoes take more than they probably do, it is still more profitable for farmers per hectare of grazing then to keep killing off the dingoes. 

“It comes down to using ecological principals to manipulate the environment to your benefit,” he said.

“Using ecological relationships to do that for you.”

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