AboutZoos, Since 2008


Time for a bold dingo exper­i­ment in national park of Australia

pub­lished 22 Feb­ru­ary 2015 | mod­i­fied 22 Feb­ru­ary 2015

Dingo fence AustraliaAllow­ing din­goes to return to Sturt National Park in New South Wales and research­ing the results may be the key to man­ag­ing the future of din­goes (Canis lupus dingo) and many threat­ened mam­mals native to Aus­tralia, Uni­ver­sity of Syd­ney researchers believe.

Our approach is pur­pose­fully bold because only an exper­i­ment on this scale can resolve the long-​running debate over whether the dingo can help halt Australia’s bio­di­ver­sity col­lapse and restore degraded range­land envi­ron­ments,” said Dr Thomas New­some from the School of Bio­log­i­cal Sci­ences at the Uni­ver­sity of Syd­ney and lead author of an arti­cle pub­lished online on 16 Feb­ru­ary in Restora­tion Ecology.

Writ­ten with Dr Newsome’s col­leagues from the Uni­ver­sity of Syd­ney and other uni­ver­si­ties in Aus­tralia and in Amer­ica, where he com­pleted a Ful­bright Schol­ar­ship, the arti­cle out­lines how the exper­i­ment could be undertaken.

Half the world’s mam­mal extinc­tions over the last two hun­dred years have occurred in Aus­tralia and we are on track for an accel­er­a­tion of that loss.
Dr Thomas New­some, lead author, School of Bio­log­i­cal Sci­ences, Uni­ver­sity of Syd­ney, Australia »

This exper­i­ment would pro­vide robust data to address an issue of national and inter­na­tional sig­nif­i­cance,” New­some said. “Our approach is based on din­goes’ abil­ity to sup­press pop­u­la­tions of inva­sive preda­tors such as red foxes and feral cats that prey on threat­ened native species. Din­goes can also con­trol num­bers of intro­duced species such as Euro­pean wild rab­bits, feral pigs and goats or native her­bi­vores such as kan­ga­roos, that in high num­bers can con­tribute to range­land degradation.”

There are major chal­lenges, includ­ing con­vinc­ing live­stock pro­duc­ers and local com­mu­ni­ties to sup­port the exper­i­ment, but we cur­rently have almost no under­stand­ing of the impact of increased dingo pop­u­la­tions over large areas.”

It took 20 years of debate in Amer­ica before wolves were rein­tro­duced into Yel­low­stone National Park and cen­tral Idaho — so let’s start hav­ing the conversation.”

The researchers sug­gest allow­ing din­goes to recolonise Sturt National Park in north-​western New South Wales (NSW). One strat­egy to achieve this would be to realign a small sec­tion of the 5500 km dingo-​proof fence on the north­ern and west­ern sides of Sturt National Park and then rebuild it on the south­ern and east­ern sides of the park. This would effec­tively place Sturt National Park on the north­ern side of the dingo-​fence and allow din­goes to nat­u­rally recolonise from South Aus­tralia and Queens­land where din­goes are more common.

NSW law cur­rently requires the con­trol of din­goes in Sturt National Park so that would have to change to allow the exper­i­ment to pro­ceed. The park would be mon­i­tored before the realign­ment of the fence took place, to estab­lish exist­ing con­di­tions. After­wards the sites where din­goes nat­u­rally recolonise within the park would be com­pared to mul­ti­ple sites out­side the park with­out dingo populations.

Large car­ni­vores such as wolves, bears, lynx and wolver­ines are return­ing in many parts of the world, espe­cially North Amer­ica and Europe. The future sur­vival of large car­ni­vores will depend on our under­stand­ing of their poten­tial to increase bio­di­ver­sity, local tourism and the health and pro­duc­tiv­ity of ecosys­tems, accord­ing to Dr Newsome.

Just one pos­si­bil­ity is that if dingo recoloni­sa­tion to Sturt National Park suc­cess­fully low­ered num­bers of feral cats and red foxes we could test whether this assists the rein­tro­duc­tion of locally extinct native mam­mals such as the greater bilby and bur­row­ing bettong.”

The researchers also sug­gest it would be worth­while con­sid­er­ing rein­tro­duc­tion or recoloni­sa­tion stud­ies else­where, such as sites south of the dingo proof fence in South Australia.

(Source: The Uni­ver­sity of Syd­ney news release, 17.02.2015)

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