Berenice Walters, the Dingo Lady, spent her adult life fighting the Dingoes’ cause. This Blog is a tribute to her work to have the Dingo recognised as Australia’s native dog and as an important part of the Australian ecosystem. Berenice was dedicated to educating the general public about the attributes of these wonderful primitive dogs.
Snowdrift was first mated with Sunny. When his first litter was due he was the most attentive mate.As Sunny was young it was decided to put her into the whelping kennel about twenty metres away.
But Snowdrift became very agitated.He rushed into his kennel dragged out his trampoline bed and sat with it at the gate ready to move house.He'd packed his bags.That won Berenice over.
Gathering him and his belongings, she put him into the kennel with Sunny who decided that she'd prefer to whelp on his bed rather than the whelping box.So here she was in the middle of the bed going into labour, with a very subdued Snowy circling trying to join her.In the end he was moved him into an adjoining kennel where he could keep an eye on proceedings. He was content.
When he was mated to Jedda he immediately started to build their home by digging a den under their kennel for his prospective family.During the birth and the early days after the birth, he was ever watchful of his pups but did not dare to touch them, patiently waiting for the time when he would be allowed to share in their care.
Jedda, the perfect mother
Jedda was the perfect mother. The pre-birth period was relaxed, the birth quiet and without drama. Mother and pups were so contented Berenice had the greatest difficulty in recording any vocalisations from the pups.
The five males and one female thrived. However, at around four weeks of age, Jedda's natural shyness with strange people indicated that this could have an adverse effect on the litter and gradually, one at a time over several days the pups were allowed to run with their father. Up to that time Snowy had not had free access to the pups as he was only just over 12 months of age. Jedda was 5 years old and it was thought he could cause stress to her.
Deprived of the constant company of his offspring caused Snowy to become very depressed as the male Dingo has a natural role in the rearing of the pups. Up to five weeks Mum does most of the work, but after that time Dad gradually takes over.
Right from the time the first pup was placed in his enclosure, he encouraged them to share his bed. That first pup he actually gently lifted up with his nose between its back legs.
Snowdrift was a marvellous father and insisted sharing the responsibilities of caring for them.At five weeks he virtually took over the daily care of his offspring, relishing the role of educating them, teaching them to hunt through play, to respect their parents, and to be kind to one another.He would encourage a shy pup, take in hand and discipline an unruly pup; snuggle and cuddle them all in bed.His bed always seems to be packed with pups.
He played with them, ensuring all had a fair go, and came down hard on any that showed a tendency to bite. All had to submit to him and respect his authority as 'top dog'. Discipline was never harsh or brutal, although the screams of the pups at times could be rather alarming, none was ever hurt. Each pup got its turn at being the 'underdog' when Dadand the whole litter chased it and forced it to roll over in submission.
Family unity and strength depends on respect, good manners, and discipline. At feed time, Snowy stood back and allowed the pups to have their fill before he ate. When Berenice entered their enclosure, he leapt up on her, jumping into the air in excitement, but never once did he land on a pup, or accidently hurt one.
Unfortunately, Snowdrift trained his pups not to trust strangers and jumped on them when they try to approach the fence.As the society socialised pups to be friendly this was counterproductive.One day, Berenice’s daughter, Christine, called the pups to her.Snowdrift jumped on them and they retreated.Christine kept encouraging them to come to her whereupon Snowy marched over to her and bit her proffered finger."He bit me" she shrieked.Snowy no doubt considered she was undermining his authority and did something about it.
Jedda was content to let Snowy take over and more often than not Snowy and his brood would be seen snuggling up together in their box while Jedda relaxed on the roof of the kennel.
Snowdrift would gently but firmly let her know they were HIS pups. He nipped her on the shoulder as she ran around the yard checking everything out. The pups mobbed her mouthing her and trying to suckle, and she very quickly jumped onto the roof of the kennel. After the initial excitement the mood quietened and they all got along fine.
Berenice grew up in the Sydney suburb of Maroubra and although at that time there was the beach and plenty of open space for children to play in (and get into mischief) she yearned to live in the country.
When she married Bern, her dream came true and off to the bush they went when he got a job as a stockman. Life wasn’t always idyllic but she was in love, there were wide open spaces and her horse, Gai, was happy.
A couple of years later they purchased a property in Bargo, south west of Sydney, where they worked hard to build up their farm with cattle, poultry and an orchard.
Research has demonstrated that dingoes have a profound influence on ecosystem structure.
The ecological influence of dingoes is so important in fact, that many native species can only persist where dingoes are present.
Dingoes suppress mesopredators (foxes & cats) and herbivores (rabbits, kangaroos, emus, feral goats & pigs), which enables small mammals to increase in abundance. Where predator control is relaxed, vegetation cover and diversity also increase.
Because dingoes are socially complex, they are particularly sensitive to lethal control.
Dingoes are deeply social and intelligent beings. They care for each other, hunt together, maintain territories and traditions, and their ecological influence is tightly linked with their pack structure.
To recover Australia's ecosystems, predator control practises must be eliminated entirely, and dingoes given full protection.
It is the pack that is the apex predator, not the individual dingo.
Many ecologists now recognise that the disruption of dingo populations has been the ultimate driving force of extinction and land degradation in Australia.
The ecosystem does recover when dingo populations are restored.
As Australia’s "top land predator", dingoes have a mixed reputation. Farmers have long lamented their attacks on livestock, and in the public mind they are associated with the disappearance of baby Azaria Chamberlain in 1980.
In most states, dingoes are classified as vermin, which means it’s legal to bait, trap and shoot dingoes and crossbred wild dogs.
But some farmers are finding a dingo-friendly approach is gaining better results.
Not too long ago a Queensland cattle farmer (Angus Emmott) recalled the following,
“As a youngster we used to always bait and we were always putting traps out and trapping dingoes,” “So it was an ongoing war back in the day.”
But these days Angus lets dingoes roam free on his farm.
“At no effort to yourself it provides control of your feral animals and also your large number of roos,” he says.
“So it’s a win-win. In saying that, dingoes do take a certain no of calves - it’s very low, but I think with all the other benefits that’s a pretty small price to pay.”
Research backs up the idea that attempts to eliminate dingoes are counter-productive.
In some cases where they have killed dingoes they have seen more stock loss - more animals killed than before and more dingoes living in that area rather than less, (but in fractured pack structures)! There are also other negative effects; more kangaroos, more foxes. So overall it’s been unsuccessful.
Australia's dingo is a extraordinary animal, that is able to more or less do the job of a lion or tiger; just because it looks like dog, it loses any value, when it is the most valuable animal in our ecosystem.
But the wool board feels that dingoes and wild dogs remain the sheep farmer’s worst enemy.
They say "in the long run their numbers have got to be significantly reduced,” and Wool Producers Australia has put together a national wild dog action plan to rid our dingoes that we've got in rural Australia.
It's a fact that we need our dingoes and we must get them off of the vermin listing.
If we can learn to coexist with the dingo without lethal control, we can and will all benefit...
The dingoes future ultimately depends on how we - governments, landholders, scientists, conservationists, the public and the media - chooses to see them and how this influences our views on how we should or shouldn't manage them. Ideally a sustainable coexistence that favours non-lethal approaches to conflict resolution. Such as concentrating on guardian livestock animals with no further baiting.