WARNING - CONFRONTING IMAGES: Methods used in Victoria’s planned eradication of dingoes living near sheep farms have been questioned after disturbing footage of a state trapping program was shared online.
Filmed in public forests across parts of the alpine town of Mansfield, the video reveals just one aspect of the state government’s “Wild Dog Action Plan”. Baiting using 1080 poison and shooting are other methods of destruction.
The footage shows dingoes unable to move and writhing in pain. Looking closely it's possible to see why — they've been snared by padded traps.
The animals filmed were shot by rangers within 13 hours of being caught according to the ABC. State guidelines allow traps to go unchecked for 24 hours, or up to 72 hours with ministerial approval.
Fierce debate over dingo control in Victoria
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia on Tuesday, Glenys Oogjes, the executive director of charity Animals Australia, said the traps are "cruel" and the footage illustrates “the terrible suffering” they inflict on dingoes.
“The real issue of it is terror. It’s a wild animal that can’t escape,” she said. “It's been indicated in the past that they will attack their own limb in order to get away and also add more damage.”
The department of environment (DELWP) did not respond directly to a question from Yahoo News Australia about whether the trapping program is in line with community expectations. It maintains the program complies with state animal cruelty prevention regulations.
The RSPCA does not condone the trapping of wild dogs because they "can suffer greatly for a considerable time before they are finally killed".
Victoria’s approach to controlling dingoes is informed by the National Wild Dog Action Plan (NWDAP) a group that advises the states on how to mitigate their impact on livestock. It argues the species can cost the economy up to $89 million a year and threaten native animals like koalas.
On Tuesday, its coordinator Greg Mifsud responded to the footage, saying NWDAP encourages best-practice management techniques. “We have to ensure our control systems deliver humane outcomes for those dogs being controlled,” he added.
Why the term wild dog is used to describe dingoes
Dingoes have existed in Australia for at least 4000 years, but when white settlers brought domestic dogs to Australia they interbred, and this led to the term “wild dog” being adopted to describe them.
Today the term has little to do with a dingo purity, and instead relates to an animal’s proximity to livestock. In South Australia, animals living inside of its “dog fence” where sheep live are managed as “wild dogs” no matter how much dingo DNA they have.
UNSW dingo expert Professor Mike Letnic told the ABC he believes the terms are really “a branding exercise”. “We call them wild dogs when they’re inconvenient, and we call them dingoes when we want to put them on postcards,” he said.
In Victoria, dingoes are designated as “threatened” and protected. That's unless they live in a national park within a 3km buffer zone of where wild dog attacks on livestock have been recorded.
Because Victoria has not defined what percentage of DNA constitutes a dingo, the NWDAP has questioned whether the species is in fact facing extinction. “They can't define what a dingo is at the moment,” he said.
“If they want to consider all the dogs in national parks to be dingoes then there are lots of them. If that’s the case then they’re not threatened because the program takes out 600 a year, every year. If they were threatened there’d be a decline in those numbers and there simply isn’t.
Indigenous elders call for dingo control rethink
When it comes to the eradication of wildlife from parts of Australia, some Indigenous people take it personally. Dingoes have disappeared from much of the nation’s landscape because of their competition with sheep. Kamilaroi man Uncle Alfred Priestley lives in Moree, NSW, and seldom sees them.
Speaking with Yahoo News Australia, he explained dingoes are believed to have originally been people, but were changed by the great spirit Byamee for being disrespectful.
He describes their treatment as a continuation of "colonialism", saying some farmers kill what they see as “vermin” in order to replace it with “pests” like sheep.
“Let's not forget how dangerous some sheep farmers are to all the little animals,” he said. “Because they know the crows will pick off the lambs when they walk along, so he’ll shoot thousands of them. He knows that the eagle will come down and snap up the lambs as much as they can, but others leave them be, but the farmers just shoot them all. And they go and put 1080 all of their farms and that kills everything that eats it.”
It’s a view shared by Kamilaroi woman Aunty Suellyn Tighe who lives in nearby Coonabarabran. “Shooting and poisoning dingoes is something that sounds very familiar to me, because that was a similar thing with farmers and Aboriginal people,” she said.
“Our main protein source was either chased off or killed off and so there was only farm animals to eat. And we were managed in a similar way. Historically there’s a correlation and what that suggests to me is that attitude hasn’t changed much.”
In one story, shared by Aunty Tighe, dingoes are used to teach about balance, a concept she believes is important when it comes to thinking about the animal.
It chronicles kangaroos being given stronger hearing and dingoes better camouflage to ultimately create balance in the landscape. "Maybe there needs to be an unpacking of what's acceptable and how we manage this land," she said.
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