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Scientists and Indigenous groups are calling for the protection of Victorian dingoes, which they say are being killed due to the mistaken belief that they are feral dog hybrids.
More than 25 scientists have signed a letter to Victoria’s Environment Minister Ingrid Stitt pushing for changes to dingo control policy, including scrapping an order which allows the threatened species to be shot or bated within three kilometres of private land, when it is due for review on October 1.
Dingoes have been integral to Indigenous societies as hunting companions for thousands of years.Credit: Jason South
Researchers have argued the characterisation of dingoes as “wild dogs” is not backed by scientific evidence and that continued lethal control of Victorian dingo populations could challenge their survival.
In a letter to the environment minister seen by The Sunday Age, the group says continuing the dingo control program could seriously harm ecosystems. They call on the government to refer to Victorian populations as dingoes rather than feral dogs, to trial the reintroduction of dingoes as apex predators in suitable ecosystems, to revise the threatened species action plan and grant wildlife status to dingo-dog hybrids.
Euan Ritchie, a professor in wildlife ecology and conservation at Deakin University, said dingoes were persecuted across Australia, despite playing a crucial role in controlling feral cat and fox numbers, as well as aiding kangaroo and feral goat management.
He said dingoes were killed through Victoria’s bounty program, which pays landholders $120 for each “wild dog” body part, and were baited within buffer zones joining national parks with private land.
Stuart Harradine is part of the push from the Berenji Gadjin Land Council to fight for the protection of dingoes.Credit: Christine O’Connell
While listed as threatened in Victoria, Ritchie said it wasn’t clear how many dingoes were left. He said scientists know populations in the Mallee region, in Victoria’s north-west, are genetically distinct and that there is evidence they are more at risk.
“It is really somewhat absurd that we have one arm of government that is funding what they call the wild dog bounty, which essentially is a dingo bounty,” he said.
“Then you have another part of government that has listed the species as threatened and is trying to conserve them.
“We also recognise that many First Nations peoples have deep cultural associations and value of dingoes and they themselves want to see dingoes being protected.”
The Barengi Gadjin Land Council, which represents First Peoples custodians from across the Wimmera, Mallee and Gariwerd regions of western Victoria, are calling on the Victorian and South Australian governments to protect the unique Big Desert dingoes of the Mallee region.
Land management officer Stuart Harradine said wilkerr, the Wergaia name for dingoes, had been integral to Indigenous societies for thousands of years as vital hunting partners.
“They’re a really important spiritual relative of ours, they’re like family to us,” he said. “Because of the persecution they’ve suffered since colonisation, our connection has been interrupted there and we want to get that connection back.”
Harradine attended the National Inaugural First Nations Dingo Forum in Cairns this month, where more than 20 First Nations groups from around the country signed a declaration calling for an end to lethal dingo control.
“We do not, and have never, approved the killing of dingoes. Killing dingoes is killing family. We demand an immediate stop to this ‘management’ across Australia,” the statement reads.
The Barengi council wrote to Stitt in June requesting a meeting to consult on dingoes in the protected area in the state’s west, where they have native title and traditional owner settlement recognition.
The minister has agreed to meet with the council on Wednesday, three days before Victoria’s Order in Council which “un-protects dingo in certain circumstances” is due to either expire or be renewed.
“The un-protection order allows people to bait, or shoot or trap dingoes within three kilometres of the park boundary, so they can go into the park and kill wilkerr,” Harradine said. “We want that to be stopped.”
Dingoes are believed to have been in Australia for 5000 to 8500 years.Credit: Jason South
He said the Barengi council would like to see the Victorian government encourage and incentivise non-lethal dingo management practices for farmers. Harradine said the use of guardian animals, including Maremma dogs that are used to protect penguins in Warrnambool, are underutilised in Australia.
“We’re not here to rob others. We’re here to protect wilkerr. We’re also wanting to allow landholders to protect their stock, but do it in a way that doesn’t mean the destruction of wilkerr,” Harradine said.
“A lot of us thought that they were locally extinct in our country and to learn that we still have a remnant population of wilkerr was really amazing for us, and we are determined to make sure that they’re protected now.”
Ellen Sandell, the Victorian Greens’ environment spokesperson, said the party would look closely at the proposal from First Nations people to protect dingoes in Victoria, as too little was being done to monitor the impact wildlife hunting permits had on native biodiversity and culture.
Sandell said she had requested that the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office audit the issuing of permits, including for killing dingoes.
“The First Peoples of Victoria have looked after this land for tens of thousands of years. They have a unique and deep wisdom about how to protect Country, so when they come to us with an idea like this we should be prepared to listen,” she said. “Introducing apex predators back into landscapes has been something that’s been done overseas with great benefits for the environment.”
The Victorian government is expected to release more information regarding their decision to either renew or repeal the Order in Council ahead of its expiry date on October 1.
“We will continue to work with traditional owners, farmers and private landholders to appropriately balance the protection of livestock and dingo conservation,” a spokesperson said.
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