MORE than 20,000 wild dogs could be on the prowl in eastern Australia this time next year, given estimations of around 2000 bitches presently whelping out in northern states.
These staggering estimates came from Queensland landholder Karen Huskisson at the recent LambEx conference in Adelaide, where she advocated the need for a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to wild dog control.
Mrs Huskisson knows from experience the impact wild dogs can have on a farmer's livelihood as she endured the nightmare on her Wattle Downs Merino and Poll Merino stud, The Gums, west of Tara.
Her family had been farming at "Wattle Downs" for over 100 years and from 1913 to 1918 the community and her family eradicated wild dogs in the area.
"In 1918 my family started sheep farming with horse and cart, pick and shovel and a hell of a lot of community spirit," Mrs Huskisson said.
"Yet, today we have all the technology in the world - and no community spirit."
After 80 predation-free years, "Wattle Downs" was struck by wild dogs as other landholders let control measures slide.
"We were surrounded by cattle farmers who thought there were no wild dogs, so we were left to trap and bait by ourselves to try and get these dogs under control," she said.
“With those young stud ewes went our genetic nucleus”
Every night Mrs Huskisson and family would go spotlighting and at three or four o'clock in the morning they would do their dog run. In one year they lost 300 stud ewes to wild dogs.
"With those young stud ewes went our genetic nucleus," said Mrs Huskisson, who is also Queensland Stud Merino Breeders Association president.
To put the financial impact in perspective, based on wool and carcase value those 300 ewes represented $120,000 lost over a five-year period, she said.
"Add to that lost lamb production - 1500 lambs over five years - and that's a loss of $180,000 (which makes) the total loss equate to $300,000. That is just for one mob of ewes, that is not counting everything else lost.
"If you put in the man hours and blood, sweat and tears for defending against the dogs, that's a loss of about half a million dollars - my business couldn't sustain that," she said.
Mrs Huskisson said mental health issues were also on the rise as the wild dog problem worsened.
"When you're faced with scenes everyday where your animals have been killed or maimed and you have to go out there and shoot them, it's hard to take," she said.
To counter their predation problem the Huskissons invested in guardian dogs - Maremmas - eight years ago, and today they are wild dog free.
"Maremmas aren't the only answer, we also co-ordinated with our pest management group and together we have got wild dogs under control, with co-ordinated baiting programs and proactive shooting and trapping," she said.
Mrs Huskisson said local doggers and trappers estimated 2000 bitches were now whelping out in Queensland, which could have eight to 10 pups each.
"That's 20,000 pups that are going to reach maturity next year, plus what is already out there. In the Charleville region (Merweh Shire) alone in the last 12 months there were 2700 wild dog scalps returned," she said.
"That's why a collective and proactive approach is need to address this problem."
“We can manage wild dogs numbers, we just need landholders to work collectively with the neighbours ...”
Invasive Animals Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) national wild dog facilitator Greg Mifsud, who also spoke at LambEx, said wild dogs were the only predator he believed would force farmers out of the industry.
"In 1990 there were 19 million sheep in Queensland and now there are only 3.3 million. Landholders have moved out of sheep into cattle and they have dropped the ball on wild dogs management," Mr Mifsud said.
Wild dogs now cost the livestock industry in Queensland a massive $67 million a year, he said.
Mr Mifsud said this was fuelled by a lack of compliance from landholders involvement in co-ordinated wild dog management programs.
"This has lead to dogs becoming re-established in areas where they were once reasonably controlled, and they have moved to a lot of areas where they were once eradicated," he said.
Mr Mifsud said landholders who believe they don't have a wild dog problem needed to think again.
He spoke of a wild dog collared outside Charleville when it was 10 months old: that dog travelled 630 kilometres to Collarenebri in NSW over a four-week period, and then remained undetected on a property for seven months until it was destroyed by researchers (with permission from the landholder).
"That landholder didn't believe he had a dog problem - but that dog and bitch were ready to start a family right there in the heart of his sheep country where they hadn't had dogs for 60 years," Mr Mifsud said.
He said the reality was wild dogs were on the move, and whilst there were changed land practices they would continue to do so.
"But we can manage wild dogs numbers, we just need landholders to work collectively with the neighbours, state jurisdiction and state government agencies to deliver far better wild dog management programs then we have now.
"It's about managing risk and impact, it shouldn't be about a dead dog mentality. At the end of the days its about keeping your stock alive.
"If you have a couple of dogs around and you're not losing stock it's a threat that needs to be considered, but if you have control in place that threat is always manageable."
He said the potential of 20,000 wild pups hitting the ground this year was a modest estimate, as there were 2000 to 2500 scalps returned in western Queensland shires alone annually.
"Wild dogs are over abundant as there's nothing to restrict them if we don't manage to apply control, as even the runt of the litter can survive off carcasses."