Who are Wild Dogs?
The term ‘wild dog’ is used by authorities to refer to all wild-living dogs in Australia. This includes dingoes, ‘feral’ domestic dogs and dingo-dog hybrids.
Dingoes (Canis lupus dingo) are the top land predator on mainland Australia, where they have been part of the wildlife for some 5,000 years. Genetic studies show the presence of at least two dingo lineages or populations: one is restricted to southeast Australia, and the other is widespread across central, northern, and Western Australia. These population differences are important to conservation and may reflect multiple immigrations of the dingo across the now flooded land bridge between Papua New Guinea and Australia.
Feral domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) were once, or are descended from, pet, working or hunting dogs whose human owners have failed to keep securely at home or deliberately abandoned. Once in the wild, feral domestic dogs and dingoes may breed together, creating dingo-dog hybrids.
Farmers across Australia condemn wild dogs for preying on livestock, which damages their businesses and profits. Since wild dogs are implicated as livestock predators, they are labelled ‘pests’ and are heavily persecuted through cruel, lethal control methods.
The primary control methods used are barbaric foot-hold traps, shooting with a firearm and large-scale poisoning regimes. Wild dogs may also be hunted with a bow and arrow throughout much of Australia, though this is specifically for sport or recreational purposes and not considered pest control.
Importantly, dingoes are not afforded the same legal protections as many other native animals*. For example, wild dogs (including dingoes) in NSW are declared ‘noxious animals’ under the Local Land Services Act 2013. This means they cannot be protected under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. As a result, indiscriminate pest control programs like 1080 poison baiting may be applied regardless of whether an area is home to dingoes, feral domestic dogs, hybrids or all three.
Considering the sheer size of the Australian wilderness and the millions of points at which hunters may kill, there is no conceivable way that authorities can regulate hunting activity to ensure targeted animals are ‘dispatched’ quickly. Furthermore, so-called pest and game animals are often exempt from the cruelty laws that protect our companion animals.
The hunting and poisoning of wild dogs is shamelessly supported by governments through fully staffed council pest control services, maintenance of extensive barrier or exclusion fencing that fracture natural habitats and also by funding research into lethal control methods. In addition, some state governments and local councils pay bounty rewards of between $25 to $120 to hunters who present wild dog skins and scalps at designated collection points.
* Pure dingoes are protected in the Northern Territory, and some parts of Victoria. In South Australia, they are declared pests south of the Dingo Fence and are neither specifically protected nor declared pests north of this Fence.
Wild dogs are trapped in barbaric leg- or foot-hold traps, which have been banned in the UK since 1958 and are outlawed in some 80 countries worldwide. These are steel-jawed devices that rapidly close around an animals’ limb when they step on the base of the trap.
The traditional trap of choice for wild dog control in Australia has been toothed traps with a large jaw spread (Lane’s traps). Though toothed devices are now prohibited to use because they cause debilitating injuries such as compound fractures and amputations, photographs from online hunter forums reveals their widespread availability as well as the presence of wild dogs with amputated limbs.
Most jurisdictions now require traps to have smooth jaws with some rubber ‘padding’ (except QLD and WA). However, even so-called “soft catch” traps cause serious physical injuries on impact with the captured limb. These injuries may be exacerbated when the dog gnaws at their limb or pulls away from the trap in a desperate attempt to escape.
The longer an animal is held in a trap, the greater the degree of injury and stress suffered. Ultimately, trapping may result in animals dying of dehydration, starvation or predation as well as a condition named capture myopathy. If a hunter doesn’t check traps regularly, standard operating procedures recommend attaching strychnine-soaked cloths to the jaws of the trap. Though strychnine is known to cause a painful and distressing death, policy makers have considered this preferable to causing a prolonged death from exposure or simply requiring hunters to check traps at least once a day.
Shooting is a commonly utilized lethal control measure for wild dogs. The goal is reportedly to achieve an instantaneous loss of consciousness and rapid death with a single bullet to the brain. In reality, dogs are live targets, which means they move unpredictably. Photographs posted online by dog hunters reveal substantial evidence of poorly aimed shots that would have caused extended suffering.
All so-called ‘management programs’ for wild dogs include baiting them with poison-laced meat. The main poison used is called 1080. The toxin itself is sodium fluoroacetate, which causes severe central nervous system disturbance, convulsions and ultimately respiratory failure. Dogs, foxes, cats and other animals who have ingested 1080 show symptoms of extreme distress that last from several hours to several days, making it a most painful and slow death.
Bowhunting is a type of archery where bows (compound, longbow or recurved) and arrows with a ‘broadhead’ are used to hunt land game animals.
Bowhunting is a notoriously cruel pursuit; clean and quick deaths resulting from a broadhead arrow penetrating the heart or major blood vessels are rare. Most animals will be initially wounded and then die hours, days or even weeks later from haemorrhaging or infections.
Tasmania is the only jurisdiction where bowhunting is illegal. On mainland Australia, it is legal to bowhunt declared game or pest animals on private property (provided appropriate permission has been granted) and on specified Crown Land and State forest areas.
Animal Liberation is strongly opposed to all lethal population control methods, bowhunting and the use of leg-hold traps and snares.
Leave Dingoes Alone!
The dingo is listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Dingoes are classified as Vulnerable, meaning they are considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.
All native Australian animals must be afforded legal protection in their natural habitats, especially from farmers and other people who have a vested interest in seeing them eradicated. State laws that declare the dingo to be a pest and subject to any form of hunting or pest control should be removed.
Research shows that where control is relaxed, dingoes re-establish top-down regulation of ecosystems, allowing for the recovery of biodiversity and productivity. The relevant government departments responsible for promoting biodiversity should therefore prioritise conservation of the dingo.
Target the Source of the Problem
It is important to question why there are wild-living domestic dogs in Australia and to focus on preventing further introductions to the wild.
People found to be dumping their dogs or failing to keep them securely at home should be faced with heavy penalties and restricted from future ownership.
Instead of offering bounties to hunters, local councils should establish incentives for desexing dogs, for example rebates or subsidized veterinary work. State governments must implement strict regulations for breeding and registering dogs, whether they be companions, livestock guardians, working dogs or hunting dogs. All male dogs in semi-rural and rural areas should be known to councils and neutered.
The most humane short-term strategy for reducing wild dog predation on livestock is the installation of electric fences around property boundaries. A study in NSW showed wild dogs will bypass farms with electric fencing in favour of farms which do not have them. Local councils can work with farmers to establish and maintain appropriate electric fencing around their properties, both to keep dingoes out and to keep working dogs in.
Lethal control of introduced wild animals is both cruel and ineffective. The existing indiscriminate control methods have also been shown to facilitate hybridization of dingoes and dogs by breaking apart pack structures. Developing and implementing non-lethal forms of population control for introduced dogs should therefore be prioritized. This includes fertility control and trap (in a cage) - neuter - release programs.