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On the first of April the South Australian Government made an announcement we wish had been an April Fools’ joke: a $100,000 ‘wild dog’ bounty paying $120 for photos of recently killed dingoes – ‘wild dog’ being a blanket term that includes dingoes to make the killing more palatable. If this allocation is exhausted, it will have incentivised the shooting of more than 800 of these ecologically important native animals.
The purpose of the bounty program is to “provide financial support to landholders who are affected by both drought and wild dogs.” While this may be a good intention, the sad and frustrating reality is that it is misguided and will result in much unnecessary suffering – bounties are an unsophisticated approach to farm animal protection that have been shown to be ineffective time and time again.
By linking financial support to dingo killing the South Australian Government has made a cruel and costly blunder. Bounties do not result in reduced stock predation for graziers. In fact, disrupting dingo packs through indiscriminate controls such as shooting (studies have also shown that it is next to impossible for a shooter to determine the difference between a dingo and feral dog in the field) is more likely to exacerbate the problem by encouraging opportunistic feeding patterns.
For more than 200 years Australia has been stuck in this cycle of killing dingoes to the detriment of farmers and their stock, wild animals, and the environment. We’ve learnt a lot about the interactions between dingoes and farm animals in this time, yet the announcement of a bounty program in 2020 shows we clearly haven’t listened to the science and adapted. Governments and industry groups just keep throwing more and more money at killing while at the same time claiming the situation is worse than ever – a clear sign that what they’re doing isn’t working.
With a raft of more effective non-lethal stock protection alternatives not only available but actively in use by many throughout the landscape, there is simply no scientifically sound justification for killing dingoes in an attempt to prevent stock losses. Investment should instead be directed towards developing and helping farmers to implement these more humane and effective alternatives.
Bounty programs are a ludicrous use of public money to incentivise the killing of dingoes – Australia’s most iconic and ecologically important apex-predators – and have no place in modern stock protection and predator management programs. Keeping farm animals safe is clearly important, but killing dingoes serves no useful purpose (other than governments and industry groups being seen to be doing something) and they should never be seen as inevitable collateral damage.
When bounties pop up the surface barely needs to be scratched before their true purpose is revealed. In this case it seems to be a subsidy for farmers – the South Australian Government’s announcement repeatedly referencing ‘drought-affected farmers’ making it clear this is an exercise in posturing.
Helping struggling producers is of course important, but this is not the way to do it. Unnecessarily linking drought assistance to a misguided and ineffective dingo killing program that will result in nothing but animal suffering shows a distinct lack of imagination and disregard for the latest science and innovations. It’s a status quo that Australian governments desperately need to break away from.
In these trying times for both nature and people, we have a duty to ensure mutually beneficial opportunities are seized and those proven to be harmful ended. Dingoes have an important regulatory function as apex predators in the environment, and it is simply reckless to try to address predation by eradicating them from landscapes. Sadly, this bounty program suggests that’s a message falling on deaf ears within the South Australian Government.
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Evan Quartermain is Head of Programs at Humane Society International and has been with the organisation since 2010. A member of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, Evan is responsible for HSI’s terrestrial habitat and wildlife protection campaigns and programs, with particular focus on legislative reform, flying-foxes, dingoes, and habitat protection through Threatened Ecological Community and Natural Heritage nominations.
Header Image: Dingoes are Australia’s most iconic and ecologically important apex-predators. Credit: Angus Emmott