Footloose

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - RON MOON

THERE’S a grue­some tree on the main road be­tween Omeo and Be­nam­bra in the Vic­to­rian High Coun­try. It is one most peo­ple drive past with­out stop­ping, and for good rea­son: it stinks!

Hang­ing from the branches are the de­com­pos­ing re­mains of at least 30 wild dogs that were shot and poi­soned on the nearby prop­erty. It’s not a pretty sight, but it re­flects the frus­tra­tion of land own­ers and farm­ers in the re­gion to the con­tin­ual prob­lem of feral dogs and the lack of sup­port from the authorities on the is­sue.

All over Aus­tralia our farm­ers are un­der at­tack from mobs of wild dogs. De­spite the Na­tional Wild Dog Ac­tion Plan be­ing launched more than two years ago, it seems it is not get­ting any bet­ter. The eco­nomic costs are stag­ger­ing, with es­ti­ma­tions in ex­cess of $33 mil­lion an­nu­ally – and that's just in Queens­land alone!

Just a few months ago a new bait – known as PAPP – was ap­proved and re­leased for use against feral dogs. Sup­pos­edly faster-act­ing and more hu­mane than the cur­rent most-used poi­son, 1080, the new one costs three times as much and is se­verely lim­ited in its use by gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions. 1080 will still con­tinue to be used, while in some states strych­nine is al­lowed.

No mat­ter how ef­fec­tive the new bait will be, the ad­di­tional weapon against wild dogs will come too late for many farm­ers. One Vic­to­rian farmer re­cently re­ported that from a flock of 500 breed­ing Merino ewes, just nine re­mained when it came time to shear. With fig­ures like these, it’s no won­der many farm­ers are de­cid­ing to get out of the in­dus­try.

I’m not a great lover of baits or poi­sons to kill any an­i­mal. Hav­ing been on-site when a friend lost his pet dog to bait, I can say it’s not very pleas­ant when a faith­ful com­pan­ion dies in your arms. How­ever, there is cur­rently no bet­ter way to con­trol wild dog pop­u­la­tions. While some shires and coun­cils are plead­ing for more dog-proof fenc­ing and dog trap­pers to be used, their protes­ta­tions are falling on deaf ears. So it then comes back to pri­vate land own­ers to do more.

Con­fus­ing the is­sue is that pure-breed din­goes are pro­tected, but hy­brid dogs aren’t – in the bush they are hard to tell apart. Most states try to get around this by stat­ing din­goes in parks and re­serves are pro­tected, but those out in the ad­join­ing farm­land are not. Re­gard­less, it still mud­dies the wa­ter and gives cre­dence to the of­ten-stated com­ment that parks are sim­ply breed­ing ar­eas for wild dogs.

For trav­ellers wan­der­ing the bush it pays to take care, es­pe­cially if you take your pet dog with you. Heed the signs no mat­ter where they are. If you’re in farm­ing coun­try don’t let your pet roam free – farm­ers will most prob­a­bly shoot them on sight! Fox and wild dog con­trol mea­sures are also wide­spread through­out our for­est and park es­tate, so don’t let your favourite pooch be­come a vic­tim to bait.

More Footloose at: www.guide­books.com.au/footloose.htm

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