Using science to determine wild dog control efforts

Wild dogs and feral pigs fitted with GPS tracking devices are revealing how they use the landscape in far western NSW.

The landholder-driven Western Tracks collaring project is a collaborative research project aimed at optimising management activities to control wild dogs in flood and associated country of the Paroo, Cuttaburra, Warrego and Darling River systems.

NSW Farmers’ Association Wild Dog Coordinator Bruce Duncan is collaborating with Western Local Land Services, NSW Department Primary Industries and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service on the project.

He said 37 feral pigs and seven wild dogs have been trapped, assessed, fitted with tracking collars and released at the point of capture. 

The movement of collared animals will be monitored for up to a year.

Data generated will provide information on wild dog movements, how wild dogs use the landscape at different times of the year, how control of wild dogs could be better targeted to avoid bait uptake by feral pigs and the effectiveness of routine control programs.

With just one of the seven collared wild dogs still alive, the project team is assessing how many were successfully targeted in the recent wild dog baiting program.

The Western Tracks project team is now monitoring traps, looking for tell-tale signs of wild dogs and collaring more wild dogs in the project area.

Western Local Lands Services Biosecurity Team Leader Tim Wall said the information would be collated and made available to local landholders and stakeholders.

“We want to see how the animals use the landscape in the Western Division – the Paroo has been in flood a couple of times and that will show us if the wild dogs go through the flood water or stay on the side,” Mr Wall said.

“We are also mapping ground and aerial baiting to determine if collared wild dogs travel up the bait lines of not.

“We are working on making maps of movement and we are expecting the data to be available soon after all the collars have been collected during 2022.”

Mr Wall said the Paroo was predominantly cattle and sheep country with landholders actively managing wild dogs.

“We have a lot of landholders on board and they are interested in having a look at this information when it comes out,” he said.

“Our aim was always to have 30 wild dogs fitted with collars – dog numbers were reduced by the drought but they are starting to rebuild with the good seasonal conditions.”

NSW DPI principal research scientist Peter Fleming said the GPS data from collars was fundamental to providing valuable scientific guidance into future planning for pest animal management.

“The landholder-driven project will give a clear picture of the scale at which control was required,” Dr Fleming said.

“The data will show where wild dogs move across land tenure boundaries, helping people focus on where control programs are needed and the resources which will be required.

“We want to know how the floodwater affected wild dog movements – do they maintain the same home range regardless of the flood water?”

The Western Tracks program is interested in how wild dogs and feral pigs interact.

Dr Fleming said feral pigs consume many wild dog baits.

“If we can work out places in the landscape where wild dogs go and feral pigs don’t, we can potentially make the baiting programs more efficient,” he said.

“The collars are timed to last six to 12 months before automatically disengaging.

“If a collared wild dog is controlled by trapping, shooting or poisoning, the collar is recovered and can be reused on another wild dog.”

The NSW Government has funded the Western Tracks project and two NSW DPI Vertebrate Pest Research Unit (VPRU) research staff have been appointed to collate the data for the Western Tracks program.

NSW DPI senior research scientist and leader of the VPRU Western Tracks project Paul Meek said the department had created two new positions and appointed research staff to carry out field research.

“A problem with relying on only local observations of wild dogs is that people only see dogs where they have spent time, whereas the GPS collars are logging their position constantly,” Dr Meek said.

“Local knowledge gives us invaluable information, but the GPS collar gives us additional and more detailed information.

“Over the next few months, the team will be setting camera traps in the landscape to monitor effectiveness of control.

“What is really pleasing is private and public land managers, Bruce Duncan, pest animal management groups, Western Local Land Services, NSW NPWS and NSW DPI are all working together to deliver the project.”

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