Sheep ‘torn to pieces’ by wild dogs or dingoes as farmers despair over lack of protection

Sheep ‘torn to pieces’ by wild dogs or dingoes as farmers despair over lack of protection

Farmers in Victoria’s north-west say their sheep are being slaughtered by wild dogs or dingoes after the state government removed their ability to control the predators.

Readers are advised this article contains an image some may find distressing.

They say they are now faced with either selling their sheep or spending tens of thousands of dollars on exclusion fencing to try to protect stock.

Until recently, all Victorian farmers and trappers could control wild dogs or dingoes on private land and on public land adjoining farms.

But that changed in March when the state government lifted the ‘unprotection order’ in the north-west region. 

In the announcement, the government cited “new research, strong advice and the effectiveness of non-lethal dingo control methods”,  along with data from the Arthur Rylah Institute of Environmental Research showing the dingo population in the north-west is at risk of extinction.

The state government calls it an “unprotection order” as dingoes are listed as a threatened species under the Flora and Fauna Act.

Last remaining control measure rejected

Numerous farmers have told the ABC that the March announcement was made without consultation.

They say there were instead offered some reassurance by a commitment from the state government to give them access to its Authority to Control Wildlife scheme.

The government said this would be available “where livestock are being significantly impacted and there are no other control options available”.

But the experiences of at least one farmer casts doubt on whether this scheme will be available to landholders for wild dog control.

Alan Bennett, who farms on the edge of the Big Desert, says he has lost more than 30 sheep to wild dog or dingo attacks since the unprotected order was lifted.

Debate has raged over whether the predators killing sheep in Victoria’s Mallee are dingoes or wild dogs.(Supplied: Ben Walker/ UNSW)

He applied for an Authority to Control Wildlife permit more than a month ago, but his application was ultimately rejected.

“We had two [government] officers come onto our property and gather information, but they refused my invitation to go and look at the attacks,” he said.

Mr Bennett said the government email rejecting his application said they could not substantiate his claims of livestock losses.

“And [it said] regardless of losses we’ve sustained, that the dogs are so close to extinction that they can’t allow a single dog to be killed,” he said.

The Victorian Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action and the Agriculture Minister Ros Spence were contacted by the ABC about Mr Bennett’s rejected application and the implications for others farmers wanting to submit their own applications. 

A Victorian government spokesperson said the Conservation Regulator had assessed an application for an Authority to Control Wildlife in the north-west but that application was declined after considering the risks of lethal control on the endangered dingo population in the north-west.

The spokesperson said the government was focused on non-lethal control methods.

“Farmers have been supported by a $550,000 investment to adopt non-lethal control methods via a pilot of measures such as predator exclusion fencing and guardian animals,” the spokesperson said.

Alan Bennett has lost more than 30 sheep to horrific injuries inflicted by wild dogs or dingoes. (Supplied: Alan Bennett)

Sell them or watch them get slaughtered

Roger Young, who farms north of Alan Bennett’s property, on the edge of the Wyperfeld National Park at Patchewollock, says he will scale back his livestock numbers as a result of the new policy.

He has had issues with wild dogs or dingoes for decades.

But he’s been able to keep them at bay by baiting along fence lines and with the assistance of state government wild dog control officers.

But without those control measures available to him, he says he can’t run livestock on land adjacent to the park.

“It came time to buy in young ewes and I just decided I’m not going to do that and have them torn to pieces by wild dogs,” he said.

“It’s going to become impossible for people to run livestock around the edges of these national parks.”

Mr Young said it was horrific to witness the aftermath of attacks on his livestock, and it took a heavy toll.

“You’ll see a sheep with its stomach ripped open and its intestines falling out, or with large chunks of meat chewed out of their rumps,” he said.

He said alternative protection measures the government had flagged, including exclusion fencing — which can cost significantly more than $10,000 a kilometre — and protection animals like Maremma dogs, were not feasible.

The state government wants farmers to install exclusion fencing.(ABC Rural; Tara De Landgrafft )

“At the present stage, the cost of exclusion fencing, unless we got subsidies from the government, is too costly for farmers,” he said.

He said the scale of paddocks also made protection animals ineffective.

Wild dogs or dingoes? 

Last year, University of New South Wales researcher Dr Kylie Cairns released research that found nearly 90 per cent of wild dogs tested in Victoria were genetically pure dingoes, contrary to previous reports saying the pure dingo population was as small as 4 per cent. 

Her study argued the term “wild dog” was a misnomer and that “the animals being targeted for eradication as an invasive pest are native dingoes”. 

Dr Cairns said all animals from the north-west that she genetically tested were purebred dingoes.

“We found that in the Big Desert, there was no evidence of any dog ancestry in them,” she said. 

But farmers and advocacy groups say the debate over whether the animals killing their sheep is moot.

Greg Mifsud says animals killing sheep need to be managed, irrespective of whether they are wild dogs or dingoes.(ABC Rural: Sarina Locke)

Greg Mifsud is the national wild dog management coordinator at the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions. 

He said farmers needed the ability to protect their animals from slaughter. 

“At the end of the day, whether they’re dingoes or wild dogs, they still attack livestock,” he said. 

“If animals are killing sheep, they need to be managed.” 

Ignored and left to fend for themselves

The ABC understands none of the $550,000 promised by the government to help with the wild dog population will be available to farmers for the installation of exclusion fencing.

Instead, it’s understood it will be spent on information and case studies on best practice exclusion fencing and the use of guardian animals.

Alan Bennett said that wasn’t good enough.

“If the state government wants to protect wild dogs in the Big Desert, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t expect a small group of landowners to bear the direct cost of that financially, physically and emotionally,” he said.

“They can come out in the media and say they’re doing this and that, but the bottom line is they’ve done nothing, absolutely nothing.

“We’re left with no protection and no support whatsoever.”

Meanwhile, the dingo unprotection order for eastern Victoria — where wild dog or dingo numbers are far higher — will remain in place until at least October 1.

The government says the future of that order will be subject to an ongoing review into its wild dog management policies. 

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