The shadow of man

Wild dog debate needs sense and reason


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Farmer Kim Bucholtz with a dead wild dog on his property in 2010. Photo: Pat Scala

Farmer Kim Bucholtz with a dead wild dog on his property in 2010. Photo: Pat Scala

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A tale of baiting, shooting, and stringing up - and wise elders.

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Forestry came the other day at our request to talk about baiting wild dog. Living in the forest we may have seen a few things they missed.

Ten years ago the farms and forest at Marengo were 1080 baited every year from a helicopter. It was done at the farmers’ expense. Every year it was a disaster. The more 1080 you put out, the more you had to put out. Bait was inadvertently dropped on house roofs, but wild dog went crazy. That was the real problem which no one seemed to understand.

Some have believed that wild dog and dingo are fundamentally different. But that is not true.

Like dingo the wild dog lives by a chain of command. There are boss dogs and younger dogs. If a young dog doesn’t like it he either escapes or is killed. The pack has a certain structure or it dies out. The ferocity of natural selection in a cold and hungry forest makes sure that wild dog and dingo become the same. All the dingo genes are available, and the harsh environment is exactly what it always was.

Like dingo, wild dogs control their numbers and activities, as long as you don’t wipe out the elders. If you do that, outsiders pour in from far away – and all hell breaks loose.

During the days of saturation baiting from aircraft, wild dog killed many station dogs in the Ebor–Marengo district. There were no wise elders to keep them away from farms, where they can get shot. There was no birth control (infanticide) and no border control against immigration. The numbers and the chaos could be clearly seen, even during the day.

One morning during this time a long loose line of about ten wild dog converged on our house. They were a motley crew of black, white, and brindle. It looked like they were driving a grey kangaroo, but there were none in sight. They just kept coming toward my children, our two barking dogs, and the house. Only by returning rapid fire with a 410 shotgun could I drive them back.

Winnie the bull terrier cross stood her ground. That is what bull terriers do. In a fight she calls for help. In those terrible years I twice had to run to outlying places where she had chanced on a pack of dingo or wild dog. She took weeks to recover.

Puppy, on the other hand, relies on speed. A border collie cattle dog, he is like smoke. Now you see me, now you don’t! He survives.

Neighbours lost their dogs.

They went to town for the day, leaving the dogs tied up. It’s what you do. Come home and they are dead on the chain. We put ours inside the house. Neighbours put up chain-wire enclosures and they got new working dogs.

The will to pay for a choppa subsided.

Wild dog was shot instead, and strung up beside the road. Professional shooters were employed – but out here you never see those strung-up dogs any more. Family structure has returned. Immigration is no longer conspicuous. We drive out and back through the forest twice a day to meet the school bus. Dogs you see are dogs you know. Old dogs, big or small, are again in control of our elusive forest family. They know to keep away from farms. The dog problem has disappeared from our eyes and ears.

Some cattle people, however, still prefer to calve in the bush. They pay a heavy price. Wild dog and scrub tick take the calves – silently. This suits those who don’t want to get involved. It’s hard to sleep with a bellowing cow in the house paddock. They get on the phone to Forestry, and ride out to the mountains to bring back and brand those that survive.

So on that morning State Forestry’s Brant Murphy (“Murph”) sat with us to explain what he could and could not do to help. The Minister and our local member, Chris Gulaptis, emailed the same advice.

“It’s how often the phone rings,” Murph told us. “We are under a statutory obligation to poison wild dog,” he said.

“But your phone calls are not from the forest?” I protested.

“It’s the only place we can put bait,” he replied.

I told him our story. He has six dogs of his own and knows how a pack works. But the phone keeps ringing.

“The white fella’s not keen on sitting with an old enemy?” I suggested.

He did not reply, a generous man who, in order to learn, attends all the meetings and conferences called to control wild dog. My son Ben brings me the books and papers that arise.

“It’s really hard to get sense and reason in this debate,” wrote Dr Euan Ritchie of Deakin University, “so much cultural baggage and vested interest.”

I put down my cup and looked at Brant, concluding silently to myself that you’d have as much chance of stopping death in custody as you would of stopping the 1080 going out. Wild dog is the uncomfortable shadow of us all, everyman living in the land.

Brant drove off to put out baits, promising to put them no closer than a kilometre from private land. We wait and watch and listen.

When the kids take the old truck into the forest they play in the creek at Broken Bridge. Puppy is kept tied up in the back. And there is a 410 on the seat in the front.

Dr Tony Courtice 

Ecologist/biologist/apple grower.

The story The shadow of man first appeared on The Bellingen Shire Courier Sun.

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