- The challenge is to match the most effective tools and strategies to each situation and location
- Multiple tools can be used to complement each other for proactive and reactive control
- Successful communication and cooperation between land managers, government and industry-funded wild dog management programs is essential
- Stay abreast of technological advances in wild dog control to ensure delivery of more effective, humane outcomes
- Victoria has transformed its wild dog problem from being considered ‘out of control’ to creating a solid platform for the delivery of invasive species control programs.
However, while farmers, landholders and government agencies have every reason to be proud of this achievement, no one can afford to become complacent about wild dog management.
According to wild dog controllers, these pests are highly adaptable, able to learn how to evade well-established control methods, which underpins the need for ongoing research and development into new tools and control methods.
Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) Operations Manager (Wild Dogs) Glenn Lineham has spent the past 14 years outwitting wild dogs, however, time and experience have taught him it is not always an easy task.
“Step number one is usually a large scale wild dog baiting program. It is a proactive strategy with the ability to eliminate the problem before it gets to the paddock.”
Glenn believes trapping, on the other hand, is the best reactive response to eliminating wild dogs that pose an immediate threat to livestock.
“The community is doing a lot more ground work through Australian Wool Innovation-control programs across all land tenures. The baiting programs also removes foxes which makes it a lot easier for a wild dog to come across a trap or a bait,” he said.
The success of these control measures and the Victorian wild dog management program has relied heavily on the AWI-funded community baiting programs. These programs, developed in recognition of industry’s role in wild dog management, highlight the importance of partnerships between government and industry. This partnership has vastly improved communication and relationships between DELWP and landholders.
The tool kit
Canid pest ejector
Known as a CPE, the canid pest ejector has added a new dimension to traditional ground baiting. The ejector consists of a stake to hold it in the ground, a piston mechanism and a capsule of 1080 solution that sits inside a bait head that is encased in meat to entice the dog. When the dog pulls on the meat, it triggers the piston, which squirts or ejects the 1080 solution into the animal’s mouth.
The ejectors are set in ‘dog hot spots’ like ridgelines, fence lines and tracks.
“The ejector is based on old technology but has been approved for use in Australia in recent years,” Glenn said.
“Once the dog tugs it, it is game over.”
Glenn said one advantage of this delivery method over conventional ground baiting, is that a wild dog is more likely to pick up fresh meat and it often fools older, more knowledgeable dogs that are wary of traditional baiting.
Another added benefit is that animals, such as foxes that have a habit of moving ground baits and hiding them, can’t move the ejector device.
Foxes hiding baits makes them difficult to monitor and creates a risk they could be picked up by domestic dogs. Glenn also said fresh baits used at ground level appear to be more appealing to wild dogs than traditional buried baits.
“The ejector is particularly useful in high risk areas such as paddocks or bush near houses and communities and less likely to be taken by off-target species such as quolls and goannas,” Glenn said.
Glenn said six areas in Victoria have been approved for aerial baiting until 2019 and he believes that it has proven highly effective at reducing wild dogs in North East and Gippsland regions of Victoria.
Aerial baiting is deployed in areas that are difficult to access or are known wild dog hot spots and for the most effective response is usually conducted in autumn and spring when wild dogs are most active. Generally, up to 4,000 baits are laid per program at up to 10 baits/km within the 3km livestock protection zone.
Glenn said DELWP is in the process of identifying whether private industry can develop technology that can alert controllers to traps being set off.
A trap alerts system would provide substantial time-savings for wild dog controllers, helping them to prioritise trap runs and build further efficiencies into the program. It would also help deliver better animal welfare outcomes and improve the optimal mix of control measures.
Reporting wild dog instances
The Victorian wild dog program is committed to continuous improvement in wild dog management, to reduce the impact these pests have on farming communities and biodiversity.
To enable this, Victoria has developed a rapid means of getting information from wild dog-affected land managers to ensure responses to incidents are timely and appropriate. Land managers are encouraged to immediately report wild dog activity to their local Senior Wild Dog Controller. Reports from landowners provide important information for the wild dog program from the presence of wild dogs (dogs seen or heard) to actual livestock deaths.
Following a report, Senior Wild Dog Controllers may provide a range of assistance including information or on-ground reactive trapping. Responses by the wild dog program are determined on a case-by-case basis.
Data collection provides the Victorian wild dog program with a good understanding of activity across the state and how wild dogs are impacting on communities.
Wild Dog Alert
Combining automated recognition of camera trap images with real-time messaging, the Wild Dog Alert system will notify producers that wild dogs have invaded their farm.
The aim is to locate the wild dogs before attacks occur. This will give farmers a ‘first strike’ capability in their fight against wild dogs, so they can be proactive and put in place immediate and targeted management strategies to avoid stock losses.
The App is an online tool anyone can use for tracking wild dog sightings and attacks in their local area. It provides groups with the information they need to manage wild dogs. It can be accessed via www.wilddogscan.org.au or as an App, downloaded from iTunes or Google Play.
After registering, users click on a map within the tool to log the location they have seen or heard a wild dog. This information can be viewed by anyone looking at the map. It also records the damage wild dogs do under a separate section of the website.
Compatible with smartphones and tablets, a land manager can record information even when not connected to the internet – information is uploaded once online.
While reporting through the WildDogScan app provides regional groups with important information regarding wild dog activity in their local area, it is critical that landholders who are affected by wild dogs continue to report incidents to Victorian Senior Wild Dog Controllers.
Once eaten and absorbed into the bloodstream, PAPP (para-amino propiophenone) bait works by converting normal haemoglobin in red blood cells to methaemoglobin, which cannot carry oxygen to the heart muscles and brain. Affected animals become lethargic and sleepy before quickly becoming unresponsive and dying. Animals show few signs of distress, making it a more humane option than other poisons.
An antidote to PAPP is available although it must be administered by a veterinarian within 30 minutes of poisoning. Unlike 1080, native animals have no tolerance to PAPP.
Wild dog control, according to Swifts Creek producer Stephen O’Brien, requires as much cunning as the dogs themselves. He is always looking for new ideas to manage them and is happy to break with convention, for example building a fortress-like fence using more posts than recommended for a standard dog fence.
“I want to do it once, and I want to do it right,” he said.
Talking about the investment in fencing, Stephen said he decided to tackle the problem and to build a fence that would do the job, rather than rely on the government to manage the problem for him.
Stephen’s ‘great’ fence is made up of four horizontal wires along with netting that sits 100-150 mm off the ground. Evolving over 20 years of trial and error, this configuration is working so well it keeps out most animals, including kangaroos, which could damage the fence and create a hole allowing wild dogs access.
Stephen said he expects the fencing will pay for itself as it not only protects his livestock from wild dogs but also keeps other animals out that impact on his pastures and take up time to control.
“I’ve got better things to do than chase wild dogs. By spending the money on the fence, hopefully we can get back to farming instead of worrying about wild dogs,” he said.
Stephen doesn’t just rely on fencing; he takes a holistic approach to keeping his livestock safe.
Ground baiting supports his barrier fence and he is an ardent supporter of aerial baiting which he says has been very effective in his area.
“By controlling the wild dogs further away, numbers are reduced and they don’t move into the property when others are removed,” Stephen said.
“Wild dogs will always be there and if people become complacent or expect others to manage the problem, they will return and attack livestock.”
Glenn said the national pilot training and mentoring program for pest animal controllers, which started in Gippsland in February 2017, ensures that generations of controllers’ knowledge is shared with new staff, producers and other stakeholders.