Tag Archives: apex predator

The real pest? It’s not Australia’s native dog


A RECENT MEDIA release in the names of federal ministers Hon. David Littleproud and Hon. Sussan Ley announced: “Over $800k to extend national feral animal coordinators” one of whom is the Wild Dog Management Coordinator through Australian Wool Innovation. The media release goes on to refer to its support for the management of the ‘scourge of pest animals’.

The ‘pest animals’ mentioned include feral animals such as foxes, deer and cats but also so-called ‘wild dogs’ which in this and other similar government publications include Australia’s native dingoes. [IMAGE: Jill Pascoe]

As an example, the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage, in its Wild Dog Policy, describes “‘wild dogs’ (as) all free-living dogs in New South Wales, including dingoes, feral dogs and their hybrids”. This is despite the wealth of evidence that dingoes are:

  • native to Australia;
  • entitled to taxonomic status (Canis dingo) separate from that of domestic dogs (Canis familiaris); and
  • occupy an important role as apex predator in the hierarchy of animals in Australian ecology.

Dingos arrived 5,000 years ago

Archaeological evidence indicates that dingoes were brought to Australia some 5,000 years ago. In the countless generations since then they have adapted to Australian conditions and acquired physical characteristics and skills, absent in domestic dogs, that enable them to thrive, independently of man, in extreme conditions ranging from the ice and snow around Mount Kosciuszko to the desert outback.

Distinguishing characteristics include acutely sensitive hearing and sense of smell, superior speed, agility and endurance. They enjoy great agility owing to very flexible joints and display problem-solving abilities not evident in domestic dogs. The dingo is Australia’s largest land carnivore and, in the wild, they eat kangaroos, wallabies, birds, and lizards as well as feral pigs, rabbits and rodents. (And deter foxes and cats from their territory).

Dingo pups at Toolern Vale sanctuary. (Susan Cruttenden)
Dingo pups at Toolern Vale sanctuary, near Melbourne.
(PHOTO: Susan Cruttenden)

In the wild, dingoes live in family-based packs where only one or a few females are fertile just once a year thus limiting numbers. Usually, it is only the dominant male and alpha female that breed; other members of the pack help to raise pups. These distinguishing and unique characteristics and their long period of geographical isolation mean dingoes are for all practical purposes native to Australia and entitled to be regarded as a distinct species: Canis dingo.

Although dingoes can interbreed with domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), so can wolves and they are regarded as a separate species: Canis lupus.

Not only is the dingo a superb animal, unique to Australia, that deserves admiration and protection, it also occupies a vital place in the natural world on which we all ultimately depend. Dingoes have been filling the role of apex land predator in Australia for thousands of years thus maintaining ecological balance and biodiversity.

Besides keeping an ecological balance with prey macropods like kangaroos and wallabies, a healthy dingo population also benefits smaller native animals because dingoes suppress feral predators (cats and foxes) by predation and also regulate numbers of feral herbivores like goats, deer and rabbits.

The role of dingoes as the apex predator is akin that of wolves in Yellowstone National Park. when they were reintroduced in 1995, they restored balance to the ecosystem by triggering a cascade of animals and plants which included an increase in beaver colonies.

As stated by Josef Lazarow in Dawn of a Dingo Day: “The health and wealth of any ecosystem is directly dependent on the efficiency of its apex predator in that properly regulated predation will positively affect each successive live link.”

Why are dingoes persecuted?

If one accepts that dingoes are native to Australia; have a unique taxonomic status; and occupy a very important ecological role, why are they simply labelled ‘wild dogs’ and subject, with government support and encouragement, to widespread baiting, trapping and shooting? Why are they not granted the same protection that other Australian native animals are given?

The main reason is the influence on governments, federal and state, of powerful agriculture lobbies, particularly those associated with grazing. This has led to governments in south east Australia actively encouraging and indeed requiring the culling of dingoes as wild dogs.

In Victoria there is a bounty on dingo skins, and in New South Wales farmers are obliged to remove dingoes from their properties. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service must control dingoes in national parks adjoining agricultural land.

Sussan Ley, Minister for the Environment in the current Federal Government attempted in a letter of 12 May 2020 to justify this lack of dingo protection when she wrote “While the dingo has been nominated for listing under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 on several occasions it has not yet been prioritised for assessment. Therefore, dingoes are not a matter of environmental significance which the Australian government can regulate. State and territory governments make their own determination on managing dingoes to balance recognising their ecological and cultural significance and supporting agricultural activities.”

Far from achieving such a balance, in Victoria there is a bounty on dingo skins, and in New South Wales farmers are legally obliged to remove dingoes from their properties. Furthermore, in NSW, the National Parks and Wildlife Service is expected to control dingoes in parts of national parks adjoining agricultural land.

Taxpayers debited $800k for animal eradication coordinators,
directed to catch dingoes in the dragnet.”

No doubt there are some stock losses, particularly of sheep, owing to dingo attacks, but are these losses great enough to merit the continuation of the same barbaric killing methods that have been used for years?

Recent extensive DNA Research by Dr Kylie M. Cairns and others from the University of NSW (and reported in Australian Mammalogy) concluded that so called wild dogs in Australia are genetically more than 60% dingo.

They have such a strong genetic line that it has not been interfered with in the same way humans have bred the wolf out of domestic dogs after many years of selective breeding and intervention. Because of this their genes still predominate and scientists, ecologists, dingo enthusiasts and more progressive farmers believe they should be given protection as dingoes, our apex predators, with a vital role in protecting biodiversity.

First Nations’ mutual respect with the dingo

Zac Forster, Dingo Conservation Solutions, NE NSW Inc writes: “The dingo is intrinsically listed in the deeper fabric of the first people’s spirituality on this land, it features in the creation stories of many tribes from the rugged mountain ranges of the north west to the sweeping coastal plains of the south east. They are spiritual totems to many tribes and are in turn held in highest respect to their corresponding skin families”. If the acknowledgement of indigenous culture given at the start of government meetings means anything, politicians should certainly not condone and encourage the killing of a totem animal.

The author examines alternatives to lethal management and asks:

The case against the dingo is deliberately misleading. Such misrepresentation of an iconic native species is akin to calling a koala a tree rat. What will dingoes be called when the last one of them is in a glass case next to the thylacine, and who will accept responsibility for its extinction?

David Pollock in Western Australia successfully changed from sheep to cattle grazing on large areas of natural grassland and found that dingoes are social animals, and the main risk of any livestock attacks comes from the breakdown of their family pack structure. This can happen when their normal range or habitat is destroyed and mating takes place with farm or hunting dogs.

Progressive farmer Angus Emmott OAM has found that there are advantages in coexisting with dingoes on his Queensland grazing property. He has said the dingoes keep in check the number of kangaroos that would otherwise compete with his cattle for food.

In the book ‘Injustice …hidden in plain sight the war on Australian nature’ — written by Bulletin editor Maria Taylor — a final chapter is called ‘Sharing’ (the land with Australian wildlife). It showcases the experience of conservation farmers and regenerative land managers/graziers who have encouraged and allowed the natural ecosystems of plants and animals to co-exist on their properties, demonstrating economic and environmental benefits. We have excerpted that chapter here.

Such measures may not always be possible particularly for sheep graziers but if one accepts the very strong case for dingo recognition and conservation then steps towards mutual (if separate) coexistence must be taken. Sheep farmers can reduce dingo predation on their stock by using guardians such as maremma dogs and erecting adequate fencing, particularly if their land adjoins a national park. Farmers argue against the cost of saving sheep and cattle from dingo attacks, but the inevitability and cost of such attacks are debatable. There are better and more compassionate alternatives.

Conservationist Dr Lily Van Eeden believes that understanding and integrating public values, and not just those of agriculturalists, shooters, and manufacturers of 1080 poison are critical for more humane animal management. The term ‘wild dog’ is deliberately misleading the general public when it concerns the killing of dingoes.

The future for the dingo? It’s political. The right choice will serve humans too

Australia has one of the highest mammalian extinction rates in the world. Meanwhile, revisions to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 remain before the federal parliament awaiting consideration by the Senate after the forthcoming election. They will not necessarily give greater protection to our wildlife, unless we pressure the new government to make changes that are real and enforceable and help to save our natural environment.

The Animal Justice Party is advocating for the following changes to be made:

  • To elevate dingoes from Vulnerable to Protected Native dog status, removing any pest status.
  • To legislate giving dingoes full protection and use non-lethal controls where required.
  • To minimise the threat of continued hybridisation by controlling wild dogs through non-lethal methods, in order to protect dingoes’ genetic integrity.
  • To inform Australians, especially rural landowners, of the ecological benefits of dingoes.
  • To develop a program for schools teaching children how to act around wild animals.
  • To increase penalties for killing dingoes.
  • Ban 1080 poison.

The independent review of the EPBC Act, looking at proposed changes, stated that in order to restore public trust in the way our environment is cared for we need to have binding, enforceable national environmental standards that clearly set out what’s off limits for destruction, and an independent commissioner to monitor the impacts of projects, ensure the law is enforced and that communities are fully involved in decision making.

The truth is that the natural world is changing and we need to fix a broken relationship with our environment. In the words of the late Prince Phillip, “If Nature can’t survive, neither will Man.”


Colonial ‘bounty’ killing of native animals continues in Victoria

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Australia poisons Dingo, the native dog: its what we do for sheep



A NOTICE WARNING of fox and wild dog baiting in local forests appeared in the Public Notice section of Narooma News, on Wednesday May 26.

Animals to be targeted under this program are foxes and wild dogs. Dingoes have been classed as “wild dogs” for the purpose of the scheme, even though as a native animal with an important role to play as an apex predator in the eco-system they should be entitled to protection.

EDITORIAL COMMENTThis ABC article (linked here) comes around to recognise the dingo as apex predator but still peppers the report with pastoralist ideas of what is a ‘pest’ to be removed, including the native kangaroos, and what might be allowed to live.

Tragically for the already disrupted balance of nature other native animals will also die a hideous, painful death as a result of ingesting 1080 poison.

This poison is so damaging to people, birds and animals it has been banned in most other countries of the world. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) reports that: “1080 is toxic to all living species, including microbes, plants, insects, birds and humans. There are reports that Nazis considered using the poison on Jewish prisoners in concentration camps but decided against it because of danger to the guards.”

Fire and drought: let’s follow it with poisoning

Hasn’t our wildlife suffered enough death and dislocation as a result of flood, fire and famine over the last few years without being subjected to further pain and loss from such an indiscriminate and dangerous scheme?

RELATED ARTICLE:  Poisoned pills showered on burned parks and reserves.  

Are we so little concerned with environmental issues and the fact that Australia already has one of the highest wildlife extinction rates in the world that we allow our state forests to become killing fields for the next four months?

So why is this plan being condoned by the state government and accepted by local councils? Presumably it is in response to some farmers complaints about threats to their livestock in areas adjoining state forests, but what exactly is this threat? And aren’t there more humane ways of livestock protection, even if will mean less income for manufacturers of 1080?

Domestic dog owners know

If you are the owner of a dog that has eaten part of poisoned carrion dropped into your backyard, or of a maremma guardian dog protecting sheep that died in agony you will certainly have an opinion! Animal Rights lawyer, Marilyn Nuske is even challenging the legality of using 1080 poison.

As a controversial issue among the relatively few people who know of this scheme, why haven’t the views of animal rights groups, humanitarians, ecologists, scientists and biologists been discussed, debated and publicised before this war on wildlife was  been declared as a fait accompli?

Indigenous people for whom the dingo is a totem animal believe we must learn to live in harmony with Nature.

In the words of David Attenborough —

“It’s surely our responsibility to do everything within our power to provide a planet that provides a home — not just for us — but for all life on earth”.

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LONELY AT THE TOP: Meddling in Ecosystems

By Natalie Kyriacou
About the author:
Natalie Kyriacou is the Director of My Green World, an organisation dedicated to the conservation and protection of wildlife and habitats. She has worked on various animal welfare and conservation projects, including an orangutan rehabilitation program in Borneo, an elephant rescue program in Sri Lanka, and a dog sterilisation clinic in Sri Lanka and Australia.
Natalie holds a degree in Journalism and a Masters in International Relations at the University of Melbourne. She is a current appointed member of the Animal Ethics Committee for the Department of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Melbourne.


With somewhat murky ancestral origins and a much maligned reputation in Australia, the dingo has long been considered a polarizing predator; both a cultural icon and livestock pest.

Perhaps no other predator is more deeply embedded in the Australian psyche than the dingo. Its history in Australia has grabbed headlines for more than a century, from the stolen baby in the infamous Azaria Chamberlain case to being the cause for the construction of the legendary Dingo Fence in 1885 to protect grazing lands, the dingo has entrenched itself deeply into the rich fabric of Australian culture.

Bearing a striking resemblance to the domestic dog, the dingo is currently listed as a subspecies of the grey wolf, though its exact ancestry is highly enigmatic and much debated. More recent research suggests that the dingo came to Australia via Southern China, anywhere between 4600 and 18,300 years ago.

Despite its flawed reputation, Australia’s largest terrestrial predator is also a vital component of healthy ecosystems in Australia and an important contributor to environmental recovery and the protection of threatened native species.

Considered one of the most vexing issues facing conservationists and agriculturalists alike, the dingo has haunted the Australian landscape for over 200 years.

The culling of dingoes is commonplace in Australia, and their numbers have fluctuated widely as a result. Government-run programs consenting the dingo cull are active across the country, with methods including poisoning, shooting and using sodium fluoroacetate.

The deadly drama of predators and their prey is often described as a prime example of natural selection in action, however, often overlooked is the role that humans play in these relationships, and how their meddlesome actions within precious ecosystems can have devastating consequences.

Most recently, the dingo has experienced catastrophic decline as a result of human persecution. Such a collapse of top predator populations is associated with dramatic upsurges of smaller predators. Known as the mesopredator theory, this trophic interaction has been witnessed heavily in Australia. Disruption to the number of dingoes has a cascading effect throughout entire ecosystems, initiating a surge of unchecked predation by lower species and an unravelling of bionetworks.

When dingo populations dwindle, foxes, feral cats, and kangaroos grow bolder. Foxes and cats eat large quantities of small mammals, while kangaroos destroy vegetation which smaller marsupials live in, leading to an equally controversial kangaroo cull.

Thus, the crucial role of the apex predator is undermined frequently. The story of the dingo is not unique. The apex predator has been continually persecuted throughout the world, and the results are almost always the same.

The impact that unregulated mesopredators have on ecosystems is something which has only recently been recognised. In 2006, scientists from James Cook University and Australian National University published a report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, tracking the geographical relationship between dingoes, threatened species, and now-extinct species.
Their research suggests that dingoes actually aid the survival of smaller, more vulnerable species in Australia, and their presence is actually associated with the persistence of native Australian animals. By suppressing populations of introduced predators and larger herbivores, the dingo actually reduced the threat to native species. The study found that in areas where dingoes had been removed, most of the native mammal extinctions had occurred.

This complex ecological dynamic has been largely overlooked in Australia, and the war on dingoes has continued to rage, compromising their genetic strain, causing many dingo subspecies to fall extinct, and dooming much of Australia’s biodiversity.

If the dingo was entirely eliminated from Australia, then prey species would doubtlessly suffer. The dingo is not only a keystone species protecting mammal biodiversity in Australia, but it is the most significant constraint on the harmful potential of exotic predators. The notion that we must so thoroughly regulate and intervene in the wild is highly alarming, and the devastating impact it has on natural ecosystems is already being felt around the world.

Natalie Kyriacou

Featured image: “Dingo Perth Zoo SMC Sept 2005”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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