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Protect the Dingo, beloved totem

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This is a follow-up to Susan’s informative piece on dingos last year. Herewith, more background and latest information on what is happening to this persecuted native species — a strong totem animal for many indigenous people; an important part of the natural ecosystem; and dear to most dog lovers.

Dingo pups at Toolern Vale Sanctuary. (Allan Baxter)
Dingo pups at Toolern Vale Sanctuary. (Allan Baxter)

THE DINGO IS a totem animal for many indigenous Australians. At a recent meeting held to protest logging in Corunna Forest (where dingoes are reputed to live) a local said, “When an Aboriginal man goes through the law he might become an emu man, a kangaroo man, or a dingo man.

“Those dingoes watch over the dog men and make them spiritually strong. They do their job — they are part of the Dreaming. You don’t kill your dingo.”

In certain areas dingoes are believed to be direct reincarnations of ancestors. Traditionally they occupy a privileged place in Aboriginal culture and are featured in stories, rock carvings and cave paintings.

The dingo is a native animal that has survived on the Australian continent for thousands of years but is now under great threat. The reasons for the drastic decline in numbers are to do with habitat destruction, trapping, shooting, and hybridisation (breeding with domestic dogs).

Time to vote for representatives
who care for nature and wildlife

While many people have only heard of the dingo as a bloodthirsty menace to livestock and children (“A dingo ate my baby”) the reality is very different; as those who have known and loved them will testify.

Although dingoes can be tamed, they prove a challenge to domesticate. After years of brilliant adaptation to life in the wild, they now fulfil an important ecological role as apex predator keeping in check the proliferation of feral species including foxes and cats, according to some researchers.

The Australian Dingo Foundation — in exploding some of the myths around dingoes — maintains that the few publicised incidents of “attacks” on humans have been recorded in areas such as Fraser Island where dingoes become habituated to those tourists who feed them illegally and cause them to lose their instinctive fear and wariness of people.

The dingo is forced into settled areas when its natural habitat is destroyed by farming. Mating with roaming domestic dogs then results in dingo lookalikes that cannot readily be distinguished from the pure dingo strain even when they’re dead.

Latest cruel scheme, back to bounty and colonial days

The latest, most expensive and perhaps the cruellest wild dingo reduction scheme of all is the federal government’s approval of a Wild Dog/Dingo Management Plan. This is appealing to three sectors: landowners who believe it is the best way of protecting their livestock from dog/dingo attack; hunters who enjoy the thrill of the kill; and payment for dog trappers. (In Victoria there is the extra inducement of $120 bounty for amateur shooters who hand in parts of dog/dingo carcasses to specified collection centres.)

dingo-trapping
(Image supplied)

Sad enough if it’s your domestic dog that has strayed, but a co-ordinated plan of shooting, poisoning and trapping, could be the final nail in the coffin of the dingo species (canus dingo) as it joins the shameful list of Australian animal extinctions.

The federal government, state governments and local land service control groups pay lip service to the idea of preserving biodiversity, but this worthy objective is lost in translation with a scheme that varies from state to state.

The vast majority of people at our local community wild dog control meeting were landholders alarmed by dingo/wild dog attacks on their stock. There was little publicity for the scheme, but official description and illustrations for the program give the wrong impression that all wild dogs are Dingoes when in fact a very small percentage are.

It is not known how many dogs/dingoes will be killed or how the elimination plan is to be effectively and humanely policed.

1080 so cruel and dangerous it has been banned elsewhere

Where is the humane animal treatment in the advocated use of 1080, the preferred poison used in Australia which is so dangerous it has been banned in nearly every overseas country? [Except New Zealand.]

The Animal Liberation Council says “Considering the sheer size of the Australian continent 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 and as painlessly as possible.

“Furthermore so-called pest and game animals are often exempt from the cruelty laws that protect our companion animals”.

Maremma-protector-of-sheep-Andy-Fitzsimon
Maremma dog — protector of the sheep. (Andy Fitzsimon)

Little or no consideration is being given to alternative ways for farmers to protect their stock, such as Maremma dogs, fencing, and alarm systems, while the recommendations and educated opinions of scientists, ecologists, Aborigines and of organisations such as The Wilderness Society, National Parks and Wildlife Society, The Centre for Compassionate Conservation, and The Animal Justice Party have largely been ignored.

John Woinarski Professor of Conservation Biology at the Charles Darwin University believes that “As a society we should be caring more for our nature, and we’re not. The legal protection we’ve got, and the funding mechanisms are simply insufficient, as is the extent to which we care.”

Antikarinya elder Bill Lennon, brought up in Port Augusta, aims to work a cattle property and at the same time live in harmony with nature. He mourns the loss of Dingo music and says “They were locked out of their country. Like us. But we are the people and these are the animals that have been treading this land for thousands of years”.

We acknowledge Aboriginal custodianship of the land when we listen to the Aboriginal “Welcome to Country” pledge at the start of official occasions.

It must be time for all Australians to show support for that pledge by voting at the next elections for representatives willing to pass and enforce laws that will be effective in giving real protection to our environment and threatened wildlife, including the Dingo.

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