Interview with Clynton Spencer, Invasive Plant and Animal Services.
You’ve recently come back from a baiting programme in WA – can you tell us a bit about that?
Baiting wild dogs was the focus. For all the landholders present, the biggest concentration and emphasis on the day itself was actually cutting up the meat. A vital step in any successful campaign, a significant amount of money is invested in good meat quality. They have huge racks 70 to 80 metres long, 900mm high and 1200mm wide and 4 of them. The blocks of meat are defrosted ready for the community to turn up with their knives and chop up the meat into 100 g pieces, some 40 000 pieces. The quality control of that bait was 10 out of 10 Gold Star. The meat is chopped up, left to dry and get a skin on it, it’s then injected with 1080 and left to dry again before turning them all over to let dry again, after this, they are placed in onion bags so they can still breathe, feels just like biltong and super palatable, all in one day, 14 hrs later, with a couple well-earned beers at the end, community spirit and ownership at its best. Well-oiled process, not rocket science, following best practice and tightly managed. Everyone was checking to make sure the bait would last a long time: not wet, no maggots, no jagged edges, a nice clean bit of meat without bones or gristle. I would definitely say that bait quality and quality assurance from this effort in WA is leading the charge, its tedious and time consuming, but worth the effort. I’ve seen some great advancements in some of the western Queensland programmes – they're doing a very similar process now. It goes for any Wild Dog baiting campaign in any state, get the meat moisture content right, it’s a no brainer.
Can you expand on what you mean by bait quality?
Emphasis on meat quality is paramount. The worst thing we can do is put a wet meat bait on the ground with a poor bait matrix, oily liver or heart etc. Get a really good piece of red meat muscle and prepare it right. The test of bait quality is its longevity in the landscape.
Why would you put a piece of meat out that is sub quality and will possibly last about two weeks? It's not really the best return on investment. Shortcutting on the quality of meat you might as well shoot yourself in the foot. It isn’t going to provide long term control and people will end up blaming the baiting programme. Don’t put out something that’s only viable or active for a week before it turns to slop, amateur hour. You have your 1080 Warning signs out for the length of the baiting program, make sure you have good baits out to be most effective, and put them in the right spots.
Using the right drying process for the meat gives the bait the best chance to last longer in the landscape. A moist piece of meat attracts the maggots and bacteria which science has proven breaks the 1080 down so quickly it can become sub lethal. There are many times I’ve seen blokes turning up to get their slop injected (with 1080). Humans will wait for the perfect meal; we want the perfect cold beer, the perfect whatever– but we take shortcuts for the baits we put out for these animals that cause so much stress with attacks on our livestock
Aside from bait quality, can you share tips for a successful baiting programme?
A good baiting programme is community driven and landscape driven. You’ve got to have every player involved and communication is king.
A sufficient budget. A successful baiting program is long term, and so your budget needs to be long term too..
If the group wants to apply for funding, you need accurate records. Remember – if it’s not written down no one will know about it. If a new person joins the area, group you have maps to show them the history of the area as well.
It's like any good sporting team; they generally watch videos of the opposition, find out their weak spots and where to attack. Convert that back to the paddock, using cameras you can really understand how that pest is moving through the landscape. Focus your energy using the intel you’ve gained from signs like footprints or scats, or your cameras.
There’s a website and also app called Feral Scan people should check out - you can log in and see local activity, damage and all types of pest animal sightings, you can even start your own group as well, and get alerts.
Good intel from strong data collection is massively important - those GPS points they don't lie. If someone's got a dog there for the last 10 years that’s a legacy your programme can continue on.
For new owners of a property, have a yarn about the past pest animal control programme with the previous owners - this can save maybe six months of frustration. They can tell you where they’ve had the best success – this dam, this fenceline, that gully etc. Use this to plan your own programme.
How about optimum placement of baits?
Make sure to place the bait strategically where the dogs move through the landscape. Most importantly target waters, because at high temperatures the dogs will need to drink somewhere.
During October and November the young animals will start to leave their den and head to local water sources. Definitely target your water sources and have a bait replacement strategy so once your initial fresh meat baits are taken you then can put out manufactured 1080 baits. Tracks leading to water sources are pretty important, as well as those tracks leading into good thick scrub cover. As the season heats up over summer a lot of dogs are dispersing across the landscape and the quickest way to get across the landscape is follow already existing roads, so really target your roads, as well as fence lines, under power lines, along ridges and gullies. Tuck the bait under a bush to reduce theft by birds. To avoid ants, suspend the bait a little bit higher off the ground, or bury baits.
Mostly people know their own properties better than anyone else. You need to know your seasonal changes, your wind direction. An animal is generally going to smell the bait if the scent is carried on the wind. Place the bait so an animal walking down a track will smell it.
Using cameras is critical. Really pay attention to the size of the SD card (32 gig minimum) Class 10 or you won't capture images that let you identify the animal – especially at the fast rate most animals move through the landscape. Place it 1.5m off the ground and at 45o degrees to the track, 5 m detection range to the target animal, face camera to the South. Put it on something solid – not a little sapling that tends to move in the wind or you’ll have about 7000 photos of nothing.
What are some reasons why dry times are good times for pest animal management?
The bait longevity is greater in the landscape when there’s minimal rainfall.
Pests will be concentrated in areas with access to water and baits will be more attractive for a hungry scavenging animal.
Litter size will be smaller in dry times, so controlling a few pups can really help break the breeding cycle and reduce numbers of young animals going out to find their own territory.
Don’t forget, we tend to focus on the dry times but even in the abundant times when there's lots of rain and lots of green grass we can't put the foot on the brake and reduce the number of baitings. In a good season, dogs will breed in greater numbers and more of the litter will survive.