It's all semantics: wild dog leaders respond

Emotive language at heart of latest dingo/wild dog scrap

Livestock
A sector of the community has long disagreed with the terminology of 'wild dog' being used instead of calling them dingoes.

A sector of the community has long disagreed with the terminology of 'wild dog' being used instead of calling them dingoes.

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Whatever name you want to give them, wild dogs or dingoes, their impact on grazing businesses has to be managed.

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Whatever name you want to give them, wild dogs or dingoes, their impact on grazing businesses has to be managed.

National Wild Dog management coordinator Greg Mifsud this week said the study published by UNSW Sydney that collated the results from over 5000 DNA samples of wild canines across the country, had confirmed earlier findings published by Australia's Centre for Invasive Species Solutions.

The latest study found that 99 per cent of wild canines tested were pure dingoes or dingo-dominant hybrids, or a hybrid canine with more than 50pc dingo genes.

Of the remaining 1 per cent, roughly half were dog-dominant hybrids and the other half feral dogs.

"The data they've got is no different to what we did some years ago," Mr Mifsud said.

"The dingo is an ancient breed of dog, but it's just a breed.

"The national Wild Dog Action Plan is about managing for impact, regardless of what the animal is called."

The Pestsmart website said findings from 3637 wild dog DNA samples from across Australia in 2012 showed that the percentage of hybrids in the wild was generally higher in areas with large human populations, such as New South Wales and Victoria.

"More remote areas inland and to the west have higher levels of dingo purity, with 87pc of wild dogs tested in the Northern Territory being pure dingoes," it said.

The latest study published in Australian Mammalogy is headlined "DNA tests show most 'wild dogs' in Australia are pure dingoes", but Mr Mifsud said he didn't think there was a breed standard in the country that would accept 75pc as pure.

USQ researcher Ben Allen agreed that the findings weren't groundbreaking but were just a bigger sample than has been previously used.

He said the difficulty lay in the authors' interchangeable terminology, defining wild dogs as less than 1pc when it was feral dogs, or domestic dogs gone wild, that made up the 1pc.

"They shift the goal posts of definition," Dr Allen, a senior wildlife research fellow with the university, said. "If you align the definition, the result's the same."

He described it as a 'never-ending stupid argument' or a 'sword fight with wet newspapers' and said it shouldn't change the management of the animals.

"I'm supportive of the study though - there's nothing wrong with its findings at all."

Emotive connotations

Mr Mifsud said the significance of the latest study was the emphasis it placed on a name, because of the emotional connotations that were associated with dingoes.

"The paper's authors want to reduce landholder control methods by changing the language," he said.

Lead author Dr Kylie Cairns said a discussion needed to happen about whether killing a native animal, which has been shown to have benefits for the ecosystem, was the best way to go about post-bushfire ecosystem recovery.

Dr Cairns, who is also a scientific advisor to the Australian Dingo Foundation, said aerial wild dog baiting didn't target invasive animals or 'wild dogs' but dingoes.

She acknowledged that wild dogs/dingoes had negative impacts on grazing and said it was important that those were minimised.

"But how we manage these issues is deserving of wider consultation - including discussing non-lethal methods to protect livestock," she said.

"There needs to be a public consultation about how we balance dingo management and conservation.

"The first step in having these clear and meaningful conversations is to start calling dingoes what they are."

Read more: Hybrid wild dogs frustrate control

Mr Mifsud said land managers were already encouraged to explore non-lethal tools to protect stock from the impact of wild dogs alongside targeted lethal management.

"It's about integrated control, and that will depend on what the manager wants to implement, which can include guardian dogs, but ultimately we have to manage those populations and that's what we are doing now.

"All of these dogs, whether they are dingoes or hybrids, are predators by nature, are carnivorous and will attack livestock regardless, so they need to be managed," he said.

He said Dr Cairns refused to accept that dog control programs were highly targeted.

"No-one is spreading 1080 across the landscape in a grid pattern," he said. "And our programs also prevent domestic dogs from entering the wild dog populations so we're actually assisting in limiting crossbreeding and hybridisation."

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