History of dogs in Australia
The Dingo (Canin lupus dingo) derived from wolves in eastern Asia and migrated to Australia approximately 4,500-5,000 years ago. They were possibly assisted in their migration throughout Australia by use as food and companionship by aboriginal people. Feral domestic dogs (Canin lupus familiaris) came to Australia with European settlement; the two Canin species can interbreed and are known as hybrids and are present across all of Australia.
Wild dogs distribution is across all of Australia.
With innate predator behaviour the dingo and wild dog opportunistically hunt a variety of mammals, native and introduced, birds and reptiles. They will scavenge carrion including rubbish as well as eat plants, fruit, vegetables and eggs.
Each dog requires the equivalent about one fifth (20%) in food and 12% water relative to their own body weight to survive.
They can survive on moisture they obtain from blood and fluids found in prey but generally require a permanent water source for long term survival.
Wild dogs are top order predators, meaning they have few natural enemies, except people. Most people regard them as pests, yet wild dogs may enable important ecological balance by preying on some other species, some of those being introduced pests themselves, such as rabbits.
The pure Dingo is an annual breeder with mating occurring usually April –May with generally a small litter of 2-3 pups following a gestation of about 2 months. Hybrids or wild dogs tend to breed larger litters, often up to 6-8 pups and can breed sometimes twice per year. The dispersal and increase of hybrid animals has been assisted by development of water points in rural and urban environments and feeding capabilities has been increased due to livestock production across many areas. Domestic dog releases and abandonments including interbreeding from all over Australia has exasperated the problem with hybrid dog numbers exploding in recent years.
A dog’s ability to traverse area depends largely on their environment and conditions, but some have been tracked over thousands of kilometres in only short periods across several months. Pure dingo’s exhibit strong territorial pack behaviours, Hybrids often do not and will wander over large distances thus increasing their chances of food source acquisitions and breeding encounters.
Producers such as myself want to minimise wild dog populations to predominantly protect our cattle but there is the possibility that in killing pure Dingo populations we are upsetting the pack order hierarchy of the pure dingo population. By trying to control wild dog numbers we may actually be causing increased attacks on our livestock by pure dingo populations as the younger generations have not learnt the abilities of their leaders and will attack livestock that are easier and more plentiful than native wildlife to survive. If we remove all dogs from one area we may in fact be causing an vacuum that increases likelihood of dog transitioning from another area as their social order and territorial areas alters.
As with all livestock management and animal welfare issues there is no easy answer in regards to welfare and economic needs that is plain cut and correct for everyone to follow, We protect one animal by killing another. There has to be some form of balance but at the moment the pendulum is that wild dog numbers are excessive and causing catastrophic non sustainable losses to many livestock production systems.
Impact on Livestock production
From a personal viewpoint the experience of finding animals that are still alive but severely maimed is the most distressing.
As our property is open range we usually find an injured animal a number of days after they have been attacked. Blood poisoning or septicaemia is generally well established, particularly if it is hot humid weather by the time we find the animals.
Due to dog inflicted injuries, the animal is often suffering secondary infections from blow fly maggot infestation or general infection due to dirt entering open wounds. The wounds by their smell and purification sometimes attract other predators including more dogs and pigs; this then initiates a second attack which would usually kill the animal.
Wild dogs can cause significant trauma to the tail, the resulting crush injury is then prone to a condition called ‘tail rot’. Blood flow has been affected to parts of the tail and the tissue dies (necrotic), this can cause infection to enter the tail and moves up the tail possibly into the spinal cord even leading to meningitis and paralysis of the hind quarter.
We produce cattle and though quiet in nature by pastoral standards these animals are not tame or used to being handled, such as a dairy herd or southern beef herd may be accustomed too. Sometimes we see livestock injured by dog damage but to capture and attempt to give them some form of medication involves chasing them. This then causes even further stress usually worsening their injuries, increasingly bleeding and pain.
Picture 2 – This weaner is with its mother, having suffered an attack as seen by the scratches on its ears. The animal is in a low body conditioned state as it is late in the dry season when fodder is at is worst nutritional level. We were unable to catch this calf and do not know if it survived.
Sometimes we find calves that have received injuries and are so exhausted from their ordeal we can walk up and capture them, Often they don’t attempt to move away. The mother may be present and significantly agitated or obviously suffering exhaustion because she has been fighting off a number of dogs over a long duration. Other times the calves have been entirely abandoned.
Picture 3. A young heifer several months after we captured her. She was lying near a tree with her mother still with her and had suffered a dog attack that tore the muscle and skin from her shoulders and rear end, including her tail and ears, the scar tissue can easily be seen. She recovered eventually but due to her trauma and forced weaning (we removed her from her mum) she remained a small and stunted animal. This calf suffered long periods of repeat infections that went right down her front legs due to skin being pulled from the muscle but not broken, She was tough enough to survive but will never be able to be sold and possibly never be able to breed.
Depending on the injuries and if the calves mother is present, and we can catch the little guys we may apply medicated sprays that we carry in our vehicles all the time and release the calf to its mother or we may capture the animal and take it home to become a ‘poddy’. Often these animals die as they are unable to handle the combined stress of having been attacked, weaning and the infection and injury assaulting their bodies.
There are times when we have found animals so distressed and with such infection that on approaching them we can smell their rotting flesh, occasionally we can clean these wounds and the animal will survive, other times we have to shoot them. Euthanasia is not a pleasant process for the producer, this is invariably shooting an animal that we are responsible for and feel incredibly sorry for due to the injuries they have received. We are all licensed to carry and discharge firearms.
We conduct a basic record of all animals that we capture for their first branding, keeping a tally of what we regard as a minor or major body damage. These are the animals which have been attacked but have survived, we have no real idea of the ones that have been attacked and have died. A visual inspection is conducted of each animal as we restrain them individually at branding time. If the calf has only a torn ear then we call it minor, if it shows any scar damage especially across its withers (shoulders) legs, rump and particularly if it has no tail then it is regarded as major. We use these records and general observations to plan and implement a wild dog control program.
We have had animals survive dog attacks that come into the yard with their genitals torn and sometimes even missing testicles all together. Often significant scar tissue is around the rump or their tail is gone from high on the point it joins their backbone. Some animals have slight damage to their ears; others don’t have ears at all. The dogs have attacked them by hanging onto their ears and hindquarters until parts of their body were physically tore away. If the wounds have healed there are often large indentations or obvious deformity in that part of the body.
Some livestock show no obvious impediment from their body damage though the loss of a tail means they have little to combat flies and irritating bugs with. Some recover from unbelievably horrific and deep cuts, while the muscle shape is lost their bodies do seem to adapt to the weakness of those muscles damaged. Some females if their genitals are damaged have difficulty calving due to the extensive scar tissue around their vagina area.
For the animals that survive or have been a victim of a wild dog attack the stress and energy lost in exertion of fighting or running from dogs can be detrimental to the animals health. Especially late in the dry season when body condition is paramount to the long term health of the livestock, reduction of this condition can affect their long term survivability until rains are received.
Reasons for control of wild dogs
I would be lying if I said we didn’t want to control dogs because they fundamentally cost us a financial fortune, but the motivation is also too equally to protect our stock from pain and suffering. We are responsible for the wellbeing of our cattle but at times feel completely helpless in the onslaught they seem to face from wild dogs. Stopping livestock production is not an option, therefore we must find ways to protect our stock.
Many years and again significant amounts of money have gone into enabling the genetics and breeding of livestock animals to occur. Including the supply of significant water and infrastructure development. To achieve the task of having an animal become pregnant and give birth to a live healthy calf is predominantly the aim of what we do. We produce animals.
Wild dogs attack the animals usually the smallest and weakest and destroy our production and profitability. The flow on impact of wild dog damage is massive, yet our very operation actually supports their access to water and easy prey for food.
On the one hand we are protecting our stock, on the other we are destroying another animal to enable our livestock to live.
Some argue the native Dingo should be protected, to a point I do agree but the true pure Dingo is largely non-existent now and I believe they have largely adapted to hunting livestock as they are easier to kill than native animals.
The fact that wild dogs can cause such catastrophic damage as hybrids or in conjunction with each other indicates to me that wild dog numbers are so excessive at present that realistically if businesses are to survive then we must implement significant long term wild dog control programs that control the population.
We are having animals being pulled down and sometimes killed that are over 1 year old and weigh over 200kg, if dogs are injuring these animals then a small calve is hardly going to challenge them who may not be much larger than the dogs themselves.
Picture – A newborn calf with the afterbirth yet to be cleaned by his mother. This calf is still unstable on his legs and will be unstable for several hours after birth. Small calves of this age and size are literally defenceless from a pack of dogs.
In the NT, Dingo’s are regarded as a native species and accordingly they are afforded full legal protection under the Territory Parks & Wildlife conservation Act 2006. It is an offence to possess, interfere or kill dingo’s unless authorised. Wild dogs are not protected and need to be controlled.
How do we control wild dogs without decimating the native Dingo?
Unfortunately current chemicals used in baiting programs to control wild dogs are not specie specific, the baits we lay to kill wild dogs will kill Dingo’s but with controls and strict regulations in place the amount of baits we are allowed including time periods and place allocation enables some populations of the Dingo to survive as we are not allowed to bait however or whenever we like.
There are a number of methods used to control wild dogs but I will explain the 1080 baits that we are authorised to use on our property in the following blog