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Australian Environmental Issues

Blue-tongue
A true-blue battler

Box jellyfish
How to avoid the stings and what to do if stung

Crocodile
So you wrestle crocs...

Dingo
Unfairly judged in killing off the thylacine?

Echidna
The wise little gnomes of Australia

Emu
Victors of the great Emu war

Flies
Shaping everything from how Australians speak to how they salute

Funnel Web spider
Yyou'll never leave your ugg boots outside

Kangaroo
Most herbivores don't grow a spine until they are the size of an elephant. Not so the roo.

Snakes
Kill less people than cows

Shark attack Australia
How to ensure you don't go by the name of Bob

Tasmanian Devil
The solution to mainland extinctions?

Tasmanian Tiger
A sad tale

Wombat
Keg of muscle

Quoll
The mainland's largest marsupial carnevore

Mythical creatures
Yowies and dropbears; some say they are myths but those who are not afraid to talk have shared their stories

 

 

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Dead dingo

The dingo and dingo mongrels: feral or not?

In 1995, the re-introduction of a small number of wolves to America's Yellowstone National Park led to a whole series of positive environmental benefits. Not only did the wolves reduce over-populations of elk, but they also forced the deer to avoid valleys and gorges where they were easy prey. This in turn helped vegetation regenerate along water courses which not only reduced erosion, but also led to beavers, birds and mice returning. 

In Australia, there is some evidence that re-wilding the dingo could likewise see a number of positive impacts. Professor Chris Johnson, from James Cook University, has argued in favour of reintroducing dingos (along with quolls and the devils) to the various mainland ecosystems that humans have eradicated them from. Professor Johnson stressed that native predator communities need to be rebuilt as they have the ability to remain in balance with native prey. As native predators replace the feral predators, or reduce their numbers, native prey is able to rebound. Professor Johnson has some interesting research backing up his proposal. He has found that in places where Dingoes are rare or absent, and foxes and cats are abundant, 50 per cent of ground-living mammals have vanished. Where dingoes remain abundant, the rate of local disappearance is 10 per cent or less.

The main barrier to the re-introduction seems to be debates about whether the dingo is a native or not. It is a particularly important question in an environmental culture that is rabid in its desire to kill "ferals" without any real consideration of the consequences of doing so. On one side, dingo expert Laurie Corbett has argued that it wasn’t a feral because of the impact it has already had in the ecosystem. In his own words,

“So what constitutes a native animal? It is simply one that lives in Australia and has ecological and/or cultural impact, regardless of taxa, birth site, race, language, length of time in Australia etc. Accordingly, the Dingo most certainly is a native Australian.” (1)

Corbett’s definition raised the emotions in biologist Tim Low. In his book Feral Future, Low expressed his concern that Corbett's classification system would render the words "feral" and "native" redundant. In a retort that seemed to belong more to the realms of linguistics than science, Low offered a sarcasm-laden rebuttal in which he stated,  

“by Corbett’s definition…the word sheds its meaning. Native rabbits, native goats, native toads, native trout, native camphor laurels and native prickly pear. O brave new world!”(1)

In short, it was a debate between someone saying the ecosystem’s response should be considered when defining the status of an animal and someone else resorting to sarcasm after fretting the "ferals" might one day be defined as one of us. It was probably fair to say that Low’s book wont go down as biology's e=mc2 moment.

Aside from confusion about whether they are native or feral, another barrier to re-wilding programs is confusion about whether it is the job of land care managers to mintain dingo genetic purity as if trying to impress kennel clubs the world over. NSW policy under the Biosecurity Act 2015 proposes that dogs in national parks will be poisoned to:

1)ensure the safety of staff and visitors in parks
2) minimise the impacts of wild dogs on biodiversity, especially where predation by wild dogs has been identified as a threat to species listed under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (including sites identified under the Saving our Species program)
3)minimise the flow of feral-dog genes into the dingo population.

The clause to minimise the flow of feral dog genes to a dingo population is an odd one considering "genetic purity" is a cultural value not something that dogs need to maintain their important role in Australian ecosystems. Admittedly, one of the arguments in favour of re-wilding the dingo in Australia is that the breed has formed a balance with other Australian fauna over the last 4,000 years. In theory, an influx of Scottish terrier genes may make the dog more capable of hunting small marsupials. That said, an influx of Rhodesian ridgeback genes might make the dog more capable of hunting feral pigs, Alsatian genes might help in hunting deer and whippet genes may help in hunting rabbits. Natural selection would then evolve the mongrel to suit the most available prey, which just happen to be deer, pigs and rabbits. As for the Scottish terriers who had their way with a dingo pack, it all probability, their offspring would struggle and die out.

Blue Heeler

In theory, dingo mongrels something like blue heelers could establish a pack in a national park where they would primarily feed on pigs, deer and rabbits. Under government policy, the dogs would be poisoned or shot. The reasons for killing might be cultural as policy reflects some people’s dislike of mongrels. They might also be economic because if the mongrels are killing deer, pigs and rabbits, then there would be less need to pay land care managers to kill deer, pigs, rabbits and mongrels. If the aim, however, was a balanced and relatively sustainable ecosystem that didn't require constant human intervention, then the reasons would certainly not be scientific.

 

1)Low, Tim (2002) Feral Future: The Untold Story of Australia's Exotic Invaders

Invasive ferals

Carp

Carp and Trout
A tale of two ferals

New hope for Cane Toads
The many unknown predators of the toad

Rabbits
A fence almost 2,000 km long to keep rabbits out of WA? Sounds like a great idea! If it doesn't work, we'll build another one!

The Willow
How a change in its status from asset to weed led to fish kills with blackwater and blue-green algae outbreaks

To bait dingos?
Should the health of the ecosystem be considered or just the kennel club registration?

Koala control
What to do about the "koala plague" on Kangaroo Island

Cat
Apex predator in Australia. Confined to urban areas in America.

Environmental values

Environmental problems
How money and ideology shapes environmental "science."

Bushfire
Australia's Stockholm Syndrome with gum trees.

The Kangaroo industry
Should we eat skippy?

Climate change in Australia
Australia was once covered in rainforest. Could it be again?

Sustainability
The dark side of sustainable environmental policies

Native pets
Why no pet wombats?

 

 

       

Australian environmental science is defined by an ideology that is not unlike a prison warden. There, the scientists are not seeing themselves as part of the ecosystem, but as masters over it; protecting the rights of the species that they say have rights and killing those that they say do not…but inevitably killing both.

"It was always seen as desirable to remove or cull the introduced species. We also need to ask whether it was possible to do so, how it should be done, whether it could have unintended consequences and what it would cost? I don't think anyone really asked those questions." Physicist John Reid - 2012