Spatial technology gathering data on wild dogs at Winton

Best practice trapping, ground and aerial baiting, and a $100 bounty for each wild dog scalp delivered to the Rural Services manager is contributing to a zero tolerance of wild dogs in the Queensland shire of Winton.

But, with increasing cost of supplying meat for the two aerial baiting programs across the shire, alternative strategies are being considered by the Winton Shire Council Wild Dog Management Advisory Committee.

The committee is working with Michael Kiminski from Outside The Box Group (OTB Group) on a wild dog tracking program using motion activated cameras positioned in strategic locations across grazing properties within the Winton shire.

By gaining a better understanding of wild dog movements across the shire, more targeted measures can be taken to control these animals in key locations.

Winton wool grower, shearer and ex-shearing contractor Shane Axford runs 3000 Merino ewes and previously served as chairman and meat bait coordinator on Council’s Wild Dog Management Advisory Committee during its nine-year history.

He said predation combined with generational change had created an exodus from the regional wool industry.

“Nine years ago, there were 125,000 sheep in the Winton Shire and now we are struggling to get 100,000,” he said.

“It has definitely hurt the pubs, clubs and shops as the shearers used to be a big source of income for them. Now the businesses rely on the tourist trade, but they don’t get the bread and butter of the shearing teams.

“In 1998, there were seven full time shearing teams plus several cocky teams in Winton, and this had dropped to one by 2009.”

In 2021, Winton Shire Council committed to a budget of $280,000 to assist the control of wild dogs and added $5000 for a $5 pig snout bounty under its $1.2 million Rural Services budget.

Council received $800,000 funding for wild dog exclusion fencing at 10 sites from Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, plus additional funding from the Queensland Feral Pest Initiative facilitated by the Remote Area Planning and Development Board.

Single properties also received a subsidy of $2700 per kilometre for stand-alone exclusion fencing. There is now 350km of exclusion fencing erected on eight properties, including two clusters throughout the shire.

Winton Shire Mayor Gavin Baskett said the shire had a zero tolerance to wild dogs.

Cr Baskett said the wild dog control budget was under review due to the doubling in meat bait prices and fuel for aerial baiting.

“We already have two large properties restocking with sheep – once the sheep are back it brings the shearers back, and it is good for the local economy,” he said.

Cr Baskett said the project with OTB Group’s infra-red sensor cameras would build data on wild dog movement in the shire to help streamline budgets and funding opportunities.

He pointed to the “massive issue” with feral pests in the region with the scalp bounty a great incentive to kangaroo shooters to control wild dogs.
Council and the wild dog advisory committee struggle with the lack of pest animal control by absentee and other landholders.

“One of our battles is to get that percentage up of landholders who bait and we will be working with Greg Mifsud (National Wild Dog Management Coordinator) on that education and communication process,” Cr Baskett said.

The 2021 aerial baiting programs consisted of around 22 tonnes of meat bait in April and 26 tonnes in October.

“There are meat baits available for landholders 24/7 through the Winton Shire so they can bait when they need to, we have a great budget to work with – the biggest of any of the RAPAD shires – and it’s an active committee,” Shane Axford said.

He said wild dogs followed a major creek system into the shire’s sheep areas.

“It is a headache – some properties are 1.5 million acres and if they don’t do much control then it is a lot of breeding ground for the dogs,” he said.

“Last year the first four exclusion fences were finished in Winton after starting in 2020 with federal funding of $1.30/metre plus $2.70/m from RAPAD. There was a further six individual fencing projects funded to the tune of $2.70/metre.”

Shane erected 39.6km of exclusion fencing at a cost of $13.50/metre to enclose three sides of his property and continued to control bait.

“The fence is not going to stop all dogs especially when there is open country outside but it gives us control, more grass and improved biosecurity.”

Prior to the fence, biosecurity had been an issue with 113 rams from 124 (worth an average of $2000 each) infected with brucellosis.

OTB Group chief executive officer Michael Kaminski said a network of 100 to 150 remote cameras were being installed across the Winton shire on private and Council property for the two-to-three-year project.

“The software program will process the imagery in real time, count the animals and identify individual animals using pattern recognition software so we can track those individuals across the shire via the network of cameras,” Mr Kaminski said.

“The participating property owners will have access to a web portal with the mapping inside 24 to 48 hours of receiving the imagery giving them information on where the dogs were seen and numbers.

“We have the ability to map dogs across the whole shire network and evaluate if there was a change before, during and after management activities, if there are more pups or different individuals moving into areas and look at the impact that is having.”

Connectivity has been an issue with signal boosters being deployed across high spots in the shire.

Mr Kaminski said the data would give Winton Shire the confidence to allocate funding to management activities in targeted areas.

Shane Axford is looking forward to receiving alerts of wild dog activity and data for his property and the region under the OTB Group project.

“The Winton Shire Council is very supportive and overall the committee is doing as much as we can – a bit more participation from landholders would help, it is up to people themselves to do their own control.”

Image: By gaining a better understanding of wild dog movements across the Winton shire, more targeted measures can be taken to control these animals in key locations.