Results are in for wild dog collar project

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Dr Guy Ballard presenting the results of the wild dog collaring project.

Local landholders and agency representatives filled the Golf Club on Wednesday night to hear from Dr Guy Ballard, DPI wild dog researcher on recent collaring project.

Local landholders and agency representatives filled the Golf Club on Wednesday night to hear from Dr Guy Ballard, DPI wild dog researcher on recent collaring project.

This initiative, costing approximately $140,000, involved trapping wild dogs in Bago State Forest, Maragle State Forest, Jounama, and Boundary Road. The dogs were then fitted with tracking collars and released back into the wild.

Of the 29 collars, 28 returned usable data to Dr Ballard. However, eight of the collars were lost to the bush and are not able to be retrieved.

The collars were programmed to take a GPS pin every hour, and revealed the typical behaviour of the dogs in regards to their home territories, along with how often they wander.

Of the 28 dogs, their home ranges varied from as low as 1,800 hectares to 17,000 hectares. They mostly stayed within the boundaries of their home ranges, going for forays to another location only once, twice, or not at all within the eighteen month period.

However, those occasional forays could encompass long distances, with one dog venturing 35 kilometres out of its home range in a mysterious two week return journey.

Dr Ballard said that this behaviour was exactly the sort of thing they wanted to capture.

“One of the questions people had was: are dogs just madly walking around the landscape, or do they have a particular patch that they stay in?

“The purpose of this was to show the scale of the dog problem. Most dogs live in pairs, and most pairs like pups. This shows that if you’re trapping, or if you’re baiting – and you should be doing both – you can’t leave any gaps because you could be missing a whole social group.”

However, the landholders who attended the meeting felt that the data showed what they, and their forebears, have been saying for generations.

“That’s just common sense,” was one comment, after National Parks Area Ranger Greg Cullen said that the data showed they should be spreading aerial baits out across vast territories, not dropping them intensively in one known dog area.

“Guy [Ballard] has shown us that there are parcels of land we haven’t been baiting that the dogs have been using as a corridor,” he said.

They also feared National Parks would not use the data as a justification to increase trapping.

“We need to make sure those gaps actually are being filled or this whole thing is just a waste of time and money,” said one farmer.

DNA material was collected from the trapped dogs, and it will be used to test their percentage of dingo purity. Local farmers want this done because they firmly believe the dogs are not purebred dingoes, or even majority-blood dingoes, but escaped domestic dogs who have gone wild over generations. For example, the dogs left behind by Snowy Scheme workers.

This is relevant because the farmer’s properties neighbour “schedule 2 land” owned by the NPWS, which is earmarked for dingo conservation.The trapped dog’s DNA will also be compared with other dog’s DNA across the state to see if they are related family groups.

Dr Ballard said that the data showed:

• Aerial baiting was quite effective but needed to be used in combination with trapping and ground baiting. Aerial baiting killed in between 63 and 74 per cent of collared dogs.
• Efforts would be ineffective unless every landholder – National Parks, Forestry Corporation, and all private property owners – actively participated, because the dogs home ranges could be very large and crossed arbitrary human-appointed boundaries.
• The maximum available bait rate should be used in aerial baiting, deaths occurred at a noticeably higher rate the more baits were dropped. Ten baits per kilometre normally kills around 55 per cent of dogs, and 40 baits per kilometre kills 90 per cent of dogs in a particular drop zone.

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