Dingoes are native animals, not ferals

Dingo on the streets of Glenbrook last month.
Dingo on the streets of Glenbrook last month.

The Gazette has recently published a number of stories about wild dogs in the area, including some stunning photos.

As a scientist who studies the genetic identity of dingoes across Australia, I wish to draw your attention to the fact that these animals (in the photos) are dingoes, not feral dogs.

It is important for the public to understand that dingoes are a native species and important to healthy ecosystem function as the apex predator. It is troubling to see the term wild dog being so widely used for these animals because generally people do not realise that this term is used to lump dingoes with feral dogs.

There is an ongoing perception that there are no pure dingoes left in NSW (or Australia) but this is incorrect. Nor are dingoes a feral animal, as they are a naturalised native.

In some dingo populations, particularly in southeastern Australia, there are some domestic dog genes in the population. However, this does not remove their identity as dingoes.

And they still fulfill the ecological role of top apex predator and are fundamentally important to biodiversity and ecosystem resilience. For example, dingoes may suppress fox abundance and possible feral cats (in some regions). They also limit the abundance of large herbivores, which benefits vegetation recovery and smaller animals.

Dingoes are also important culturally and spiritually for First Nations People, and their voice on this matter is rarely heard.

Dingoes do impact on livestock producers, and this is one of the major justifications for aerial (and ground) baiting. There are non-lethal tools that sheep farmers can use to reduce the risk of predation for their livestock, including using livestock guardian animals, electric fencing, changing animal husbandry practices (i.e. putting sheep, particularly those due to lamb, in internal paddocks or barns).

Shooting and trapping are also effective ways to remove problem dingoes that are causing stock predation issues for graziers.

There needs to be a balanced approach to minimising the impacts of dingoes on livestock farmers with the need to maintain dingoes in the environment as a native species.

It is troubling to see a beautiful example of a dingo labelled as a 'feral wild dog', especially in an area of high world heritage value and natural biodiversity.

I would share concerns with residents about dingoes entering towns. It is important to understand that these animals are likely displaced by the fires. Domestic dogs should be kept secure during the night/day and ensure rubbish is secured.

Nobody should be feeding these animals as that will encourage them to stay in the vicinity of the town. It is better for the animals if they go back into the bush.

  • Dr Kylie M Cairns is a research fellow at the Centre for Ecosystem Science in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of NSW.