Louise Boronyak has spent the last four years studying the dingo and exploring ways that producers (ranchers) can coexist with the species. Dingoes have been killed due to conflicts with livestock industries and concerns for human safety for over 200 years in Australia. Yet many producers say the dingo predation is getting worse. If we take a closer look at what happens when dingoes are indiscriminately killed, the reason is pretty clear.
Louise says, “The key to reducing conflict actually is keeping family groups of dingoes intact.” You see, a family group takes up residence in a territory. They have between 2-12 dingoes in a group. Dingoes maintain a distinct territory, that excludes rival groups. The family unit enables them to more easily hunt large wild animals such as kangaroos. In intact families only the top male and female reproduce. Yet once dingoes are killed, that family unit is destroyed. If a parent is killed by one of the indiscriminate lethal methods such as poisoning, shooting or trapping this can lead to a circumstance where younger females in the group breed. Also, less experienced dingoes, let’s call them the teenagers, that are less skilled hunters at taking down larger prey may switch to opportunistically prey on unguarded lambs, sheep or calves, making livestock predation worse. This leads once again to more killing of dingoes and the cycle of conflict continues (see figure below).
Human-dingo conflict is widespread because 51% of Australia is used for extensive livestock grazing. This persecution of dingoes not only negatively impacts dingoes, it has impacts on other wildlife, such as eagles that eat poisoned bait or wallabies trapped in leg hold traps. “This causes the suffering of dingoes and other animals,” says Louise.
Australia has even built the world’s longest fence to keep dingoes out of the southwestern corner of the country. This fence stretches 5,531 km, from eastern
Queensland to the South Australian coastline. Ecologists have noticed a marked difference in ecosystems from one side of the fence to the other. “That’s because dingoes are essential to the health and function of Australian ecosystems.”
Louise has spent many hours talking with ranchers and has coined the term “Predator Smart Farming” as a new approach to work collaboratively with landholders and foster coexistence with dingoes. Louise says, “Australia needs to modernize our approach to wildlife. I am keen to see coexistence as a fundamental part of sustainable agriculture. Non-lethal tools and practices can keep livestock and wildlife safe. And those producers who have practiced Predator Smart Farming have seen the results.
“We spend zero time and resources seeking to control our dingo population. The financial outcomes we obtain I believe are much better than cattle producers who spend considerable time and resources seeking to persecute dingoes.” Cattle producer, Noonbah Station, Queensland
“Dingoes are bringing the balance back. Not only do we have more pasture, but we can manage it better. For the first time we can start to recover areas by effectively reducing the total grazing pressure. There are no goats left on Wooleen, or in the whole district really. The foxes have disappeared in exactly the same rate as the goats.” Cattle producer, Wooleen Station, Western Australia
There are a few key ways to practice Predator Smart Farming:
- The use of livestock guardian dogs to supervise livestock
- Provide extra supervision during lambing and calving season
- Although difficult in rangelands grazing, providing access to water means that cattle do not leave their calves behind to search for water
- Use deterrents like fox lights, sounds, smells that can ward off dingoes
- Remove attractants like dead livestock
- Neuter working dogs
- Allow dingoes to form stable family packs
Through a holistic and integrated management of livestock, land and livelihoods, producers can better protect their livestock, improve animal welfare, and benefit from the role the dingo plays on the landscape.
Through a partnership with the Humane Society International, Louise is putting the finishing touches on a guidebook that will include voices and case studies of people who are already coexisting with wildlife. She expects to release the guidebook by mid-2022. You will see it here, so stay tuned. We will share it in our Resource Library. You can also check out Louise’s recording presentation on dingoes here.