The announcement by Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles that he was putting a stop to a controversial plan to deploy wild dogs to kill goats on a north Queensland island, reportedly to protect a threatened bird species, has been welcomed as a sign that the government will take action against wild dogs in the state’s national parks.
In late July, plans by the Hinchinbrook Shire Council to release four dingoes onto four-square-kilometre Pelorus Island to eradicate the 300 feral goats destroying its coastal ecosystem were publicised, raising a barrage of criticism from groups, including the RSPCA, which announced that it would appeal to Biosecurity Queensland's ethics committee to revoke approval for the project.
CEO Mark Townend was reported as saying that using wild dogs to create a situation where goats will be “eaten, partly eaten and then left to die a horrible painful death” is the wrong attitude for 2016.
Various animal welfare groups have since raised a number of petitions objecting to the plan, the largest by Care2 Australia attracting over 155,000 signatures worldwide, 20,400 of them from Australia.
Dr Miles on Thursday made an Interim Conservation Order under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 requiring Hinchinbrook Shire Council to immediately cease the use of dingoes to eradicate feral goats on Pelorus Island, citing concern for a threatened bird species, the Beach stone-curlew.
“I was shocked to learn of this cruel experiment but even more alarming is the lack of thought for the native animals on the island,” he said.
“Pest control should always be carried out in the most humane way possible – not by death row dingoes.
“As of today no dogs can be released on to Pelorus Island and any wild dogs already on the island must be removed within the next 14 days.”
“I do not take this action lightly but on the advice of experts from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection it’s clear that this misconceived program needs to stop before irrevocable harm is done to the island’s population of Beach stone-curlews.
“While the control of feral goats and other pests is a responsibility of all landholders, the methods employed should not pose a risk to threatened native wildlife species.”
“Government a willing partner”
Hinchinbrook mayor Ramon Jayo announced that his council would happily comply with the terms of the order, just as it abided by the approval the minister’s government previously issued to proceed.
“The facts are simple,” he said. “It was the minister’s own government that issued the approvals for the trials in the first instance and it is the minister’s own government that has instructed us to stop.
“Either the minister is being very deceptive or he’s got no idea what his department is actually doing.
“The government has been a willing partner in all this.”
Cr Jayo said he was not happy about an alleged bucketing his council took at the hands of the minister in Parliament.
“Whilst I can vaguely understand Dr Miles’ actions, which in essence arise from an alleged new issue (curlews) and not because of the terms of the project itself, it appears to me that the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries has no handle on what is happening in her department.”
Agriculture Minister Leanne Donaldson supported the Order, saying the program was ‘inhumane’.
“It was very frustrating for me to learn that under current legislation I had no power to intervene.
“As soon as I heard the detail of the council’s plan I sought urgent advice on whether I could step in on the grounds that it is a cruel and inhumane solution.
“At the inaugural meeting of the Animal Welfare Advisory Board I asked members to consider whether such practices are in line with current community expectations on animal welfare.
“There has to be a more humane way to deal with a feral pest problem.”
Similar action needed in national parks
Wild dog committee chair Peter Lucas has asked why the state government isn’t taking similarly strong action in state-owned and managed national parks.
He said the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service must ensure its policies and procedures align with the Queensland Wild Dog Strategy vision that 'the impact of wild dogs on Queensland's biodiversity, agricultural assets and social values is minimised'.
"Control across QPWS national parks is inconsistent and that is a source of major frustration for farmers living near national parks,” Mr Lucas said.
The Queensland Wild Dog Strategy states that 'as wild dogs are declared Class 2 pest animals, land managers in Queensland - including private individuals, companies, local and state government agencies - have a legal responsibility to control wild dogs on their land.'
"We would strongly encourage the Environment Minister to ensure the same approach taken on Pelorus Island is also taken on QPWS owned and managed lands," Mr Lucas said.
National Wild Dog facilitator Greg Mifsud agreed, saying he didn’t want to comment on the merit of the project but he was glad the minister had recognised that wild dogs and dingoes were a threat to endangered species.
“I’d like to work with the minister for the delivery of more best practice programs on the government’s national estate.
“We know wild dogs are a problem in lots of national parks and neighbours are suffering as a consequence.
“In other parts of the state, national park rangers have been keeping wild dogs in place as a means of control of introduced animals.
“There’s now no valid reason to leave wild dogs in national parks.”
RSPCA support dingo removal
RSPCA Queensland CEO Mark Townend said the RSPCA also supported the decision.
“We at the RSPCA had a number of concerns regarding the decision to put dingoes on the island in the first place,” Mr Townend said.
“We felt there were significant animal welfare issues not just for the goats but for smaller, native animals on the island and the dingoes themselves.”
Dr Miles said there were estimated to be only around 5000 Beach stone-curlews left across Australia.
“The Beach stone-curlew is listed as Vulnerable in Queensland, Critically Endangered in New South Wales and Near Threatened on the global IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,” Dr Miles said.
“It is believed to be in decline across most of its range due to human disturbance and predation by cats, pigs and dogs.
“I will not stand by while one of the main predators of this vulnerable bird is deliberately released into its habitat.”
Interim Conservation Orders are designed for use where there is a likelihood of a significant detrimental impact on threatened wildlife.
Earlier this year Dr Miles took similar action when an Interim Conservation Order was issued in relation to the recently rediscovered night parrot.