Learning to Live with the Dingo


Learning to Live with the Dingo:

Dingo watercolour - John Hunter

What comes to mind when you think of a dingo?

Iconic Australian animal? The Azaria Chamberlain story? Your answer will depend on your own identity. To a farmer, the dingo is an unwelcome, invasive pest. To a conservationist, the dingo is a top predator, a critical component of a balanced ecosystem. Its identity is controversial. The dingo doesn’t often enter the Australian public’s field of view, but our tax dollars contribute to continent-wide destruction of this animal, largely through use of baits laced with sodium fluroacetate, or 1080. Bounties are paid for their scalps in some states – the only bounties paid for any native Australian animal today.

Why? Dingoes are very good at killing sheep and Australian livestock producers have battled with the dingo for over 200 years.  The practices employed have remained largely unchanged throughout this time – we’re the only continent where research on protecting livestock from predators has focused on lethal control, with limited attention given to nonlethal interventions that are used successfully elsewhere. These lethal control practices are not without consequences for Australian ecosystems. Dingoes are Australia’s top predator and help to regulate populations of kangaroos as well as introduced predators like foxes. Introduced predators are one of the main reasons why Australia has the highest rate of native mammal extinction in the world. What’s missing in current research in Australia is an understanding of how people shape the management of dingoes and other wildlife and pests.

In my PhD research at the University of Sydney, I investigate how contemporary dingo management came to be and whether it is appropriate.  I do this by looking at historical narratives of farmers and the general public on their attitudes towards current  management practices.

Dingo bounties

Bounties are paid for dingo scalps in some regions.

Credit – ABC News

I see lack of public awareness as a key reason why there is little scrutiny of our lethal control practices. After all, it was public backlash that forced President Nixon to ban the use of poison in wildlife management in the U.S. in the 1970s. If public awareness increases in Australia, we might expect to follow suit and we should be prepared with alternative management options if this happens.

Managing predators is always controversial. In parts of the U.S., wolves are recolonizing areas from which they’ve been eradicated for 100 years. To ranchers, this is political. Wolves are allowed to return because of the sentiments of a largely urbanized public who hold conservation and animal rights-friendly values, and these changes could prevent ranchers from being ranchers where livestock production stops being viable due to wolf attacks. This situation with wolves serves as an important lesson for Australia’s future with the dingo.

I’ll be spending my NSW Postgraduate Fulbright Scholarship in the Predator Ecology Lab at the University of Washington, Seattle, drawing comparisons between these conflicts in the hopes of identifying solutions that benefit both the environment and livestock producers.

Lily van Eeden | 2018 NSW Postgraduate Scholar | Ecology
The University of Sydney / The University of Washington

Lily investigates the human dimensions of wildlife management. For her PhD research, she focuses on the conflict between livestock production and one of Australia’s largest predators, the dingo. The Australian agriculture industry invests millions of dollars annually in dingo control, despite little evidence that current management methods are effective at reducing livestock loss and limited understanding of the consequences of these practices for ecosystems. Lily seeks to discover what shapes our dingo management strategies and how they can be improved for the benefit of farmers and the environment.

For her Fulbright Scholarship, Lily will collaborate with researchers in the University of Washington’s Predator Ecology Lab. Her research there will compare the Australian and American contexts, providing an opportunity for Australia to learn from the experiences of ranchers who live alongside large predators including wolves, mountain lions, and bears.