In a new publication led by Lily van Eeden, we looked at historical attitudes of graziers across Australia in the 1950s to dingoes- and in particular the management of dingoes. This survey was administered by Macintosh, but the results never published. We went to the archives of the Shellshear Museum where his research and notes are stored, and then analysed the data. Lily will follow this up with a current survey to determine whether attitudes and perceptions have shifted in the 50 years that have now passed.
Studies of environmental history provide an important lens through which to analyse our contemporary thinking and practices. Here we consider historic management of the conflict caused by dingo predation on livestock. We present unpublished findings of a comprehensive national survey of graziers’ attitudes, knowledge and interactions with dingoes that was conducted by Professor N. W. G. Macintosh in the 1950s. By analysing the 137 responses from this survey, we sought to determine the factors that shaped graziers’ attitudes and management decisions. The four most popular management methods employed to protect livestock from dingoes were trapping (80%), ground-baiting (68%), fencing (44%), and shooting (34%). Whether a respondent had sheep or not was the strongest determinant of which management methods were used, with sheep graziers less likely to use ground-baiting and shooting and more likely to use trapping and fencing. While some patterns among responses were evident, the study reveals the complex nature of graziers’ experiences with dingoes and suggests that, given the lack of scientific evidence available to them at the time of Macintosh’s survey, their decisions, observations, and attitudes were influenced by contextual factors. We use this analysis to consider how history has shaped contemporary dingo management. While the economic, social and environmental context has changed since Macintosh’s survey over 60 years ago, some historical attitudes and practices surrounding dingoes have endured and attacks on livestock by dingoes continue to be regarded as a major threat to graziers.
van Eeden, L., Smith, B., Crowther, M., Dickman, C., & Newsome, T. (2018). ‘The dingo menace’: an historic survey of graziers’ management of an Australian carnivore. Pacific Conservation Biology. doi: 10.1071/PC18031
The West Australian Government announced that in 2019 they were going to declare the dingo no longer a native Australian species under legislation. It turns out the species status of WA fauna is at the discretion of the Environment Minister. This would mean that they no longer had to develop, maintain and enforce a management plan for the dingo. Given that by multiple criteria the dingo is a native Australian canid, a group of scientists penned a letter to the Minister (find it here), and a few of us wrote an article in the Conversation, outlining why this is not an appropriate action.
These actions seem to have been effective- as the Minister has since reversed their decision, and the dingo will remain native. The dingo is still a declared pest in WA and can be lethally controlled, but they remain their native status.
The way we decide to define and label species has implications for how these species are managed- particularly by governments in relation to conservation legislation. The Australian dingo is a prime example of this. In this letter in the prestigious journal Science, we argue that naming species is a rather subjective exercise, and that the way/method we choose to classify species can have serious consequences.