STATEMENT: Does the wool industry really care about wildlife?
REPORT: Does 1080 baiting really protect wildlife?
7 May 2021 – a response to Australian Wool Innovation Ltd.
Amidst growing community concern and increasing calls for action, industry has retaliated to the battle to ban 1080 poison in Australia. A nerve has been struck. Questions challenging the efficacy and appropriateness of 1080 baiting, particularly in the wake of 2019-20’s devastating bushfires, have led the Australian wool industry to bite back.
In a recent report published by Australian Wool Innovation (‘AWI’), an industry-owned research and development corporation that receives levies and taxpayer funding, 1080 baiting is sold as supporting farmers and helping protect native wildlife. The release comes after a series of events have challenged the appropriateness of 1080 baiting, including reports of companion animal deaths, revelations about illegal stocking of the restricted chemical, negligent livestock deaths and local government bans.
Does the wool industry really care about wildlife?
One of the more contentious claims touted by the AWI is that “wild dogs” are “by far the most significant threat” to koalas. This claim is used to support it’s primary claim: that 1080 baiting helps protect native wildlife.
Mythical "wild dogs"
Dingoes are not “wild dogs”. Studies using state-of-the-art techniques show that a staggering 99% of wild canines are “pure dingoes or dingo-dominant hybrids” (that is, they are more dingo than they are domestic). Dingoes are a protected native species in many states, including Queensland. Yet industry has kicked up a stink and claimed that the debate is semantic. It is far from linguistic: for many animals it’s a matter of life and death.
In other states, dingoes are referred to as “wild dogs” and are therefore considered a “noxious” or “pest” animal under state law. In Queensland, a “wild dog” is defined as “any free-ranging dog without an owner”. Dingoes (and dingo-hybrids) are Invasive Biosecurity Matter, requiring people to “manage” their presence. Managing a dingo in Queensland can mean shooting, trapping or poisoning. The semantic issue of whether an animal is a “dingo” or a “wild dog” – and where they are found – means it becomes possible to legally kill them in ways it would be a crime to do to other animals. Even in areas where dingoes should be protected under Queensland law, the “good neighbour policy” allows them to be killed there anyway. This reveals one reason naming does matter, despite some arguing otherwise.
These competing claims have led to dingoes being identified as one of the most ambiguous species of Australian wildlife. In the past, their nature has led to their demonisation. Now, when evidence and moves by other state governments or local councils to reverse the effects of their vilification begin to pile up, industry is on the attack. Now, killing one native animal is sold to the public as being good for another.
Conflating outcomes with cause
The study cited by AWI in their statement took place in Queensland from 2013 to 2017. In the six years preceding that, between 1997 and 2013, a similar study was published in the prestigious 150-year-old academic journal Nature. It identified 11 causes of koala mortality by looking at clinical diagnoses taken from wildlife hospitals across southeast Queensland. It was not limited to one region, like the study the wool industry cites. It looked at 20,250 koalas. In comparison, AWI’s source looked at 503. For some perspective, that’s less than 2.5%. It also states that predation is “particularly difficult to quantify” and ascribes unknown deaths to dingoes without evidence. Ultimately, the Nature study found the three most common causes for admission were chlamydia, trauma caused by car accidents and “wasting” (emaciation).
Land clearing and habitat destruction
During the same period, the RSPCA released figures showing that wildlife rescues had more than doubled since Queensland’s land-clearing laws were relaxed. According to WWF Australia, clearing rates “more than tripled” across the state. In a joint report, the RSPCA and WWF state that clearing kills about 34 million native mammals, birds and reptiles every year. This staggering figure is more than likely significantly underestimating the true scale of destruction caused by land-clearing in Queensland. So-called “legacy impacts” mean that the impacts of clearing, such as the fragmenting remaining habitat, are likely to be “even more severe” because they accumulate and harm coming generations.
“Nothing else in Queensland causes as much suffering and death among animals as the escalating destruction of bushland habitat by bulldozers and other machinery”
– RSPCA Queensland CEO Mark Townend.
By comparison, the Australian Koala Foundation estimate that each year, up to 4000 koalas are killed by cars and dogs combined. Between 2009 to 2014, over 10,000 koalas were admitted to four southeast Queensland wildlife hospitals. The figure becomes substantially more concerning when it is noted that the population was estimated to number only 15,000 in 2010.
Though the AWI cite a paper in a respected journal, other experts have said that habitat loss is “the number one threat” because “if they haven’t got a tree, nothing else matters”. The Australian Koala Foundation agrees, stating that “the main threat is loss of habitat“. If dingoes or dogs do pose a threat, it’s because they’re more likely to encounter them when their habitat is destroyed or fragmented.
Land clearing isn’t a one-off, like a bullet or bite. It stockpiles suffering and metes it out over generations. This is why land-clearing has been recognised by experts as both an ecological and an animal welfare issue.
Competing for casualties
Aside from the painful and traumatic deaths it causes, multiple studies have shown that koalas in Queensland have been known to starve as a direct result of habitat destruction caused by land clearing. Others show that habitat destruction or fragmentation show “a strong association with road vehicle and dog attack trauma“. These attacks occur because koalas have poor body condition caused by emaciation (caused by land clearing and destruction to their habitat). Rather than singling out and demonising dingoes, available evidence suggests that it is a lethal combination of devastating threats that are causing koala declines. Many of these are tied to land use changes and industry activity.
Land clearing and habitat fragmentation are significant threats to many of the species the wool industry identified as beneficiaries of 1080 baiting in their recent report. Some of them, such as hairy-nosed wombats, endured population declines caused by the activities of the industry itself: their declines have been directly linked to “competition for pasture from cattle and sheep“.
How you can help
We need an independent review of 1080 across the country. Without it, industry can continue to make misleading claims. Join over 7000 Australians demanding the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (‘APVMA’) review 1080 day.