Dingo Research Wins Top Award

Evelyn Downs Dingoes (A. Wallach)
Evelyn Downs Dingoes (A. Wallach)

The election results here in Australia are not good news for wildlife, ecosystems that have sustained minimal human impact, and all the human beings who research, rescue, love, care for, and defend animals, plants and ecosystems that are at risk.

In dark times we need stories that help us sustain our moral compass, as Hannah Arendt told us many years ago. It was really great, therefore, to see that dingo research has won one of the prestigious Eureka Prizes organised by the Australian Museum. The award is timely both because of the quality of the research, and because of the social context of dingo vilification.

In my book Wild Dog Dreaming I wrote about the fact that there is in Australia a concerted war against dingoes. On the physical front, the war is being waged with 1080 poison, traps and bullets. On the propaganda front, the war is being waged around questions of sheep and cattle security, and presents itself as a war of terror, emblemised by hanging the dead bodies of dingoes and other canines from trees, posts and fences.

Research tells a different story. When they are not under attack, dingoes behave as top predators: they regulate their own populations and promote biodiversity within their territories. Much of our knowledge about dingoes as top predators comes from the work of a dedicated team. On September 4, 2013 the Eureka Prize for Environmental Research was awarded to the team and the research.

The team: Professor Chris Johnson, University of Tasmania; Dr Michael Letnic, University of New South Wales; Dr Euan Ritchie, Deakin University; Dr Arian Wallach, James Cook University; and Adam O’Neill, Evelyn Downs Station.

The citation: “Professor Chris Johnson and his team’s work is conservation with bite! It has shown how the dingo helps sustain biodiversity in Australian ecosystems. It points the way to improved environmental management in which the dingo could be used to aid the recovery of degraded lands and therefore help protect threatened species.”

My friend Arian Wallach and I have had many fascinating conversations about life, death, dingoes, ecosystem cascades, and more. She and Adam O’Neill now live at Evelyn Downs station where they both manage the cattle and carry out dingo research. From her place on the station, Arian is advocating a wonderful proposal: Predator-Friendly Pastoralism.

Here it is in her own words:

“Evelyn Downs started out as a dingo-recovery study site, which we visited twice for annual surveys of mammals, plants and the dingoes of course. It was after the second field trip that Adam was invited to take on the position of station manager, and we snatched the opportunity to live in and manage one of our study sites. The most difficult aspect of our work over the years has been finding areas that are free of persecution (aka 1080-baiting) for an extended period of time. Living in our study site provides a measure of protection for the dingoes, stability for our research, and continual interactions and observations of this changing ecosystem. Rather than visiting our study site once a year, we are there every day to see and document the recovery of the dingo population and the cascading effect this has on other wildlife, plants – and the cattle. Evelyn Downs, together with a handful of other pioneering pastoral stations across the country, are the first to trial predator-friendly pastoralism. Perhaps one day soon, alongside labels such as “organic” and “free-range”, we’ll have a new “predator-friendly” label with a little image of a howling dingo on the package too… “

Thank you Arian!

Cattle and Dingoes at Evelyn Downs (A. Wallach)
Cattle and Dingoes at Evelyn Downs (A. Wallach)

7 thoughts on “Dingo Research Wins Top Award

  1. Well done to the research team. It takes guts to come out against all the vilification and propaganda and tell the truth.

    The sheep farmers started off with the Tasmanian Tiger, the Tasmanian Devil, the wedge-tailed eagle. Now the Dingo. The farmers have succeeded in wiping out the Tiger, nearly the Devil and Eagle. And in many parts of the country the Dingo is now gone. Yet sheep are still dying. Why? Because our native wildlife is not living off sheep. It is foxes and domestic dogs gone feral that are the problem.

    In fact, when I talk to the old cockies at the Farmers Markets, I hear many stories of their encounters with dingoes. They all make the point “which you don’t see any more”, referring to the Dingo quickly becoming a fleeting memory, a page in the history book. These encounters included using dingoes as working dogs – dingoes were regarded better than cattle dogs, kelpies and border collies because Dingo didn’t bark and scare the sheep into a stampede.

    And then others tell tales of seeing dingoes in the sheep paddocks running after Kangaroos – totally ignoring sheep. Not surprising as this is the Dingoes natural behaviour.

    Indeed Dingoes are a farmers friend. They clean up foxes and domestic dogs gone wild. This saves livestock losses. They clean up rabbits and keep roo numbers in check. This means more feed for livestock. They clean up feral cats. This is good news for poultry farmers.

    Also what must be noted is the good work of Dr Lee Allen of Bio Security QLD who has now come out stating that they got it wrong for the past 30 years and that baiting dingoes INCREASES livestock losses. Such a pity Bio Security QLD quickly silenced him, refusing all media requests to interview Dr Allen so the truth would be known…


  2. I need urgently to get a hold of you as I live at Ayers Rock and there are adult dingoes being shot here leaving behind pups who are wandering around and starving, it is so sad

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