Dingoes are considered a pest in much of regional Australia. But what happens if you let them thrive? | Ralph-Lauren

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Boyd Webb driving past a small herd of cattle, with a shot gun wedged between the driver's and passenger's seats.
Boyd Webb runs sheep and cattle — and says controlling dingoes is vital for his business.(

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Baited, shot and culled as pests; dingoes have a bad reputation. But what if leaving them alone helped some farmers make money?

Driving across Boyd Webb’s vast sheep station in central west Queensland is a bumpy ride.

It covers diverse country, including Mitchell Grass Downs, gidgee, desert lands and there’s even a river.

Wedged between his seat and the dashboard is a rifle.

Boyd Webb is seen driving, reflected in a side mirror covered in flecks of mud and dust.
Boyd Webb’s sheep station “Weewondilla” is about 100 kilometres north of Longreach, Queensland.(

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A flock of sheep look like tiny ants running across a grassy landscape in a drone photo.
Boyd Webb’s sheep station covers some diverse country about 100 kilometres north of Longreach.(

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Out here, all kinds of wildlife make life hard for people in Boyd’s line of work.

Kangaroos, which compete with sheep for pastures, are in relatively lower numbers on Boyd’s land compared to some of his neighbours. That’s taken a lot of work.

But enemy number one for Boyd is something much smarter than a roo: something he says, in a bad year, can take out almost a third of his sheep.

They’re rarely seen but, at night, you can hear them howl.

Warning: this story contains confronting images of dead dingoes that some readers may find distressing.

A close up photo of what looks like a dingo's paw print in the earth.
A paw print seen in the earth on Boyd Webb’s sheep station.(

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What Boyd and most other pastoralists call “wild dogs” are Australia’s native land-based apex predator: dingoes.

The Australian Museum contends dingoes were introduced around 4,000 years before Europeans arrived.

Some estimate they’ve been here for 8,000 years.

A historic drawing of a dingo standing on a raised bit of a grass.
This profile of a dingo titled “Dog of New South Wales” was engraved in 1789.(

Supplied: State Library of Victoria

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Though, like much of the science about them, the time they arrived in Australia and how much they’ve mixed with domestic dogs differs depending on who you speak to.

One thing everyone agrees on is that they don’t mix well with sheep.

The size and mannerisms of sheep make them perfect prey for dingoes.

“You wouldn’t mind so much if they ate the whole sheep and made a meal of it, but they play with them,” Boyd says.

What’s left is a severely injured animal that needs to be euthanased.

So Boyd, whose family has been in the region since 1863, has done everything he can to try and keep dingoes off his property.

Boyd Webb stands with one hand on his hip and another on a shotgun, looking down at a pile of bones under a tree with a dead d
Boyd Webb spends thousands of dollars each year on pest eradication.(

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His “dingo tree” stands in one of his paddocks like a trophy.

A white skull speckled with dust is on the ground, surrounded by other bones.
Underneath Boyd’s “dingo tree” are bones of wild dogs he has caught this year.(

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The bones of dingoes are scattered below.

A dead dingo is hanging from a sign by its tail, in front of bright afternoon sunshine.
A dead dingo is hanging from a sign near a vast sheep station in central-west Queensland, with the sun shining in the background, on May 24, 2021.(

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On a nearby public road, someone has tied a dead dingo to a road sign.

A close-up photo of a dead dingo's paw with a fly sitting on one of its paws.
A fly rests on the dingo carcass’s toe.(

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A warning that the predators are around, and that they’re not welcome.

Boyd will spend up to $20,000 on pest eradication in a normal year, and a chunk of that goes towards controlling dingoes.

He kills them with baits laced with a poison known as 1080.

He also hunts them and hires trackers to do the job when they evade him.

And he says it’s worth it because of how much the dingoes cost his business, and the personal toll the losses take on him and his young family.

“You’re trying to do the best you can. You’re trying to be as productive as you can,” he says.

“You’re trying to raise as many sheep as you can. To look after … your animals as best you can.

“When you go out and find [sheep] half dead, chewed up, maimed … yeah. It’s tough. It’s hard.”

Boyd Webb pointing into the distance.
Sheep are spread out over Boyd Webb’s property, making them hard to monitor.(

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A sheep looks through a wire fence; small leaves and twigs are sticking to its wool.
Dingoes are more likely to attack sheep than cattle.(

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A single white bone is lying on dark, rocky ground.
A sheep bone lying on the ground.(

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Boyd’s approach to dingo management is not unusual.

Right across Australia, there is a coordinated effort to kill dingoes by baiting across the landscape, as well as shooting.

It’s not just carried out by landholders, but local and state governments too.

Public land, and even some world heritage national parks, are being scattered with poisoned baits in a broadscale attempt to kill the predators.

It’s done to protect Australia’s livestock industry: mostly sheep and goats, as dingoes are less likely to attack cattle.

But there’s a growing number of people questioning the efficacy of that approach who say it ignores science, isn’t results-driven, and is leaving the land in a worse condition.

Angus, the dingo protector

Angus Emmott is driving a ute with a brown farm dog on his lap.
Angus Emmott driving across his property in central west Queensland.(

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At the crack of dawn, cattle grazier Angus Emmott is preparing for work.

Three men are wheeling steel barrels of fuel towards a helicopter, that is parked in a paddock as the sun rises.
Angus Emmott’s family and friends are preparing for a cattle muster at the crack of dawn.(

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A band of all-terrain vehicles and motorbikes assembles outside his homestead as two choppers land in a field.

Two quad bikes ride across a dry paddock, with clouds of dust trailing behind them.
Two quad bikes ride across a dry paddock at Angus Emmott’s property in central west Queensland.(

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It’s time to muster.

The choppers and bikes will try to round up the cattle scattered across his 52,000-hectare property.

He estimates there will be a few thousand head of cattle, but won’t know for sure until the muster is complete in a few days.

It’s hard work over sometimes rough terrain, but the team doing it seems thrilled by the challenge.

A man is using a long steel implement to pour fuel into a steel barrel, next to a helicopter at the crack of dawn.
Fuelling up ahead of a cattle muster.(

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Two helicopters launch from a grassy paddock at the crack of dawn.
Two helicopters launch from a grassy paddock for a cattle muster on Angus Emmott’s property.(

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Five people and a farm dog are riding a quadbike towards a helicopter in a field, silhoutted by the rising sun.
Mustering is hard work — but friends and family have come along to help.(

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Angus’s family has worked the same land for more than a century.

But he’s not your typical cowboy.

He and wife Karen host a constant stream of scientists who study ecology around his property, as well as tourists, politicians and activists, who he hopes will help protect it.

Karen and Angus Emmott share a kiss on their property, with dry grass and green trees surrounding them.
Karen and Angus Emmott share a kiss during the cattle muster.(

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At night he likes to retire to his shed, where he keeps more than 5,000 natural history books and a significant collection of animal remains. It’s his personal museum.

He’s also a serious photographer and helps his wife run a small tourism business and wildlife sanctuary.

But perhaps the most controversial aspect of his life is something he doesn’t do.

He doesn’t shoot dingoes. 

“I’ve always been very interested in biology — arid zone flora and fauna — what makes the world tick in this part of the world,” he says.

“So I’d been reading up on the science and looking at the whole theory of how to have a healthy landscape, you needed apex predators.”

Angus Emmott looking down at an animal's skull, in a shed with walls lined with books.
Angus Emmott’s shed is filled with thousands of books and a collection of animal remains.(

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A close-up of a hand holding a dingo's skull, which is tagged with information.
Angus Emmott is interested in biology, especially arid zone flora and fauna.(

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Thousands of books line the walls of Angus Emmott's shed.
There are more than 5,000 natural history books in Angus Emmott’s personal museum.(

ABC News: Brendan Esposito

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The idea is relatively simple: apex predators — things like lions, sharks, wolves and dingoes — suppress the number of some larger herbivores.

That has all sorts of flow-on effects, such as boosting the numbers of plants and the smaller animals that depend on them.

Crucially for Angus, the dingo’s herbivore of choice is primarily the kangaroo — the very pest responsible for eating the pastures his cattle rely on

“So I said, ‘Let’s have a look at dingoes, let’s have a look at what happens when we totally leave them alone’,” he says.

“And it’s been a big success.”

Angus Emmott is riding a quadbike with his dog, as golden dust flies up behind them.
Angus Emmott says leaving dingoes alone has helped his cattle operation make money.(

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Angus says letting dingoes thrive has given him better pastures and, in turn, more control over how he stocks his land.

“When it’s getting dry, we can just sell our cattle and let the land rest until it rains,” he says.

“So roos don’t eat all the groundcover and we end up with healthy landscapes.

“With our beef enterprise, dingoes make us a lot of money.

“We actually have a property that’s in better condition: we have no roos, we’ve got full control of our stocking rates and we’ve got more grass.”

A herd of cattle are walking in one direction, their figures forming dark silhouttes amid the golden morning sun and light dust.
Dingoes are less likely to attack livestock once they form a pack, Angus Emmott says.(

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Angus Emmott is driving a quad bike, with a dog is standing on the front, looking ahead, past a herd of cattle.
Letting dingoes survive on Angus Emmott’s property has helped keep kangaroos under control.(

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He’ll still kill a dingo if it attacks his cattle, but he says that happens less frequently once an established dingo pack forms.

But how Angus manages the ecosystem on his property isn’t entirely up to him. He’s expected to play his part in pest eradication, and that includes working to control dingoes for all landholders.

It’s a requirement under Queensland’s Biosecurity Act (2014), though many landholders agree it is not a heavily enforced requirement. There is also a similar law in New South Wales.

In the Northern Territory, dingoes are a protected species. Landholders can still kill problematic ones, though they do need a permit. A similar rule applies in Victoria.

Five dead dingos are hanging by their legs on a tree surrounded by dry land.
A common sight in central west Queensland, “dingo trees” are used to communicate that there are dogs in the area.(

Supplied: Angus Emmott

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Angus Emmott agrees that freely allowing dingoes on a sheep station is not an option and targeted strategies are needed in those settings.

But he believes Australia’s largely one-size-fits-all approach to dingo management is ineffective and flawed.

“I don’t think my business model and the rest of Australia should have adverse business outcomes because the wool industry thinks we should bait all of Australia for their business model,” he says.

He doesn’t want to ban graziers from killing dingoes, but he does want the current approach of killing them at a landscape level changed.

So he’s started a new group called Landholders for Dingoes.

He wants to use it to push for a new approach, and highlight the benefits of coexisting with the apex predator.

“We’ve been baiting for 50 to 60 years and the problem is getting worse,” he says.

“We need to actually look at the science, look at hard data and look at a much more nuanced approach to how we manage dingoes across the Australian landscape.”

The science behind conserving dingoes

Despite the importance of apex predators, relatively little is known about dingoes and much is contested.

Whether they are even a separate species from domestic dogs is something scientists can’t agree on.

A dingo is seen walking amongst grass and gum trees.
Dr Cairns says ecosystems where dingoes are left alone are more diverse and resilient.(

Supplied: Angus Emmott

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Some experts, like Kylie Cairns, a geneticist from UNSW who specialises in dingoes, believe that what people call “wild dogs” are basically just dingoes.

Instead of treating them as pests, she believes they should be managed like native animals and allowed to fulfil their role as apex predator in Australia’s arid ecosystem.

A recent study of hers looked at the genetic fingerprint of 5,039 “wild dogs”, finding almost all had predominantly dingo ancestry. The majority appeared to be pure dingoes.

While some scientists have disputed how she identified dingoes in her study, Dr Cairns says her findings suggest feral domestic dogs are not an established pest in Australia.

“We should just call them dingoes so that we can have an open, balanced, transparent discussion about managing dingoes in the environment,” she says.

“So that we’re making sure that we’re conserving them in places where they’re really valuable, like in national parks, but managing those impacts for farmers.”

A golden dingo looking towards the camera with its tongue out, surrounded by shrubs and grasses.
Dingoes have been in Australia for thousands of years, but the exact time of their arrival is disputed.(

ABC News: Brendan Esposito

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She believes the indiscriminate killing of dingoes disrupts their family pack structure and leads to a higher number of problematic dingoes.

Once the pack is disrupted, the remaining dingoes are less confined to their territories and can reproduce more, she says.

Australia also has the world’s highest rate of extinction among mammals, and Dr Cairns suggests killing dingoes could be partly to blame.

“If we don’t have them [apex predators], then ecosystems get out of whack,” she says.

“And so they’re really important to have in the landscape doing their role.

“You have much more diverse and also resilient ecosystems where there are dingoes.”

A mob of brown cattle are moving through a gully, surrounded by shrubs and green trees.
Angus Emmott says letting dingoes thrive has boosted vegetation on his cattle property.(

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There is also some science to back Angus’ claim that dingoes boost his bottom line.

One paper looked at three decades worth of satellite imagery from either side of Australia’s dingo fence, which stretches 5,600 kilometres from the Nullarbor in SA up to the Darling Downs in Queensland.

It found there was far more vegetation cover on the northern side of the fence, which has more dingoes on it.

And Angus himself has authored a peer-reviewed paper about the benefits to his own property.

In the early 1990s, dingoes were practically eradicated from his property.

But his paper suggests that since allowing for a stable dingo population, the number of kangaroos, goats, and wild pigs has reduced and his pasture cover has improved, no matter the season.

Over Angus Emmott's shoulder we can see a farm dog on the front of a quadbike, with cattle amid gumtrees ahead.
Angus Emmott says leaving dingoes on his property has given him more stocking options.(

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Angus hopes his new group, Landholders For Dingoes, will shift the conversation.

He says there are other landholders around that share his views on dingoes.

“But most of them aren’t game to stick their head up because there’s so much peer group pressure that the only good dingo is a dead dingo and if you are not killing every dingo on your land, you’re letting Australia and your industry down; that is simply not true.

“So, we’re trying to create a space so there can be sensible discussion, using hard data and working with the best scientists in the field and working out a better way to manage our landscapes.”

A white ute is facing a vast expanse of dry, red property, basked in warm evening light as the sun sets.
Angus Emmott says farmers face a lot of peer pressure to fight dingoes.(

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‘It’s a stupid idea’

Back on his sheep station, Boyd is also trying different ways to manage dingoes on his property.

Boyd Webb standing in front of a shed with corrugated iron walls, under jagged shadows from a tree.
Boyd says letting dingo numbers grow could be devastating for the sheep industry.(

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He’s investing big money in infrastructure to keep them out using predator fences.

“It’s hard to put a figure on it, but the fencing alone would be over $1 million over a couple of years,” he says.

That buys him about 150 kilometres of specialised predator-proof fencing. Soon, he wants to install more.

But installing it is the easy bit.

Grazier Boyd Webb is standing in front of dry country and a wire predator fence.
Boyd Webb is spending a lot of money installing a predator fence at his property.(

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Once it’s up, it needs constant maintenance.

Boyd Webb walking away from camera with his head down, with flat arid land stretching into the horizon in front of him.
Boyd Webb says dingoes take a toll on his business and family.(

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And he still has issues with dingoes. 

A drone shot of Boyd Webb walking near a tall fence, with bare arid land stretching into the distance.
Trying to find a dingo on this property is like trying to find a “needle in a haystack”, Boyd Webb says.(

ABC News: Brendan Esposito

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“There’s a dog actually in here at the minute that we’re trying to find. But you’re looking for him in 20,000 acres,” he says.

“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

Boyd Webb is happy for others to join Angus’s new group, but says he won’t be one of them.

He worries that if primary producers abandon their wild dog management plans, it will create breaks in the armour and lead to a spike in the predators.

“Would you run a crocodile farm next to a kindergarten? I don’t think you would,” he says.

“It’s a stupid idea.”

A small red mountain is seen in the distance, with arid grasses blurred in the foreground.
The landscape in central west Queensland.(

ABC News: Brendan Esposito

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