Nature & Wildlife

VOICES FOR THE EARTH

Dingoes and the Dingo Fence

Constructed more than a century ago, the 5,600km long Dingo Fence stretching from western South Australia through the Strzelecki Desert and across southern Queensland, was built to keep dingoes out of important sheep grazing areas to the south. The fence is not the only measure for combating dingo predation. Poison baits, trapping and shooting are used by graziers on both sides of the fence and Government bounties encourage dingo eradication.

Grazier John Knight, from Evelyn Downs, a cattle property north of the Dingo Fence, has a different view of dingoes to many other graziers. As well as having ecological concerns about the role of our largest land-based predator in the food chain, he believes that dingoes stop kangaroo numbers getting out of control. As a result, the landscape, where there are dingoes, has a heavier coverage of vegetation and grass which leads to healthier cattle.

A recent article in ‘The Guardian’s’ “Modern Outback” series points out that conservation scientists support this view and say there is growing evidence to suggest a different approach to dealing with dingoes can be both an environmental and economic winner.

According to one multi-year study the dingo fence has a significant impact on the country’s environment. Satellite imagery showed that the country on the southern side of the fence had far less vegetation than on the northern side. It concluded that dingoes play an important part in keeping kangaroo populations in check which meant more feed for livestock where there are dingoes. 

Are there other ways of protecting livestock from dingo predation particularly in the sheep country south of the fence? Euan Ritchie, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at Deakin University, believes there are other possibilities. He says some dog breeds and donkeys have been found to be effective guardian animals when kept in paddocks with sheep.

It will be interesting to see if the study based on satellite imagery encourages any change in the treatment of dingoes. In the short term this seems unlikely given ingrained attitudes to dingoes as pests.

         Leonie Blain

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