The story of Wild Dogs and Collaboration

The extraordinary reaction online for a wild dog story coming up next Sunday on ABC Landline illustrates the power of CRC collaboration. The promo, which was posted to social media, has been viewed over 380,000 times in 15 hours and this is clear evidence of the demand and pressing need for a CRC successor to keep developing additional control tools and strategies to better manage wild dogs.

Dogs are controversial, as are the methods of controlling them. Australia maintains a 5,600 km “dog” or “dingo” fence (even the names used are controversial) stretching from the Nullabor Plan in South Australia to Southern Queensland, which marks a major difference in the ecology on either side of it. The barrier fence does make a difference but it doesn’t keep the dog problem on the western side. So local exclusion fences, shooting, trapping and poisoning are all important methods of control. More ecologically-based methods of control, such as the “nil-tenure” have had success, but graziers have long called for additional control methods.

After a decade of work PAPP (para-aminopropiophenone) has become available from Animal Control Technologies Australia, one of the participants in the Invasive Animals CRC. PAPP is available for both dog and fox control.  It is an additional tool to those already available, but a very important one in the current environment.

It is worth recalling the story of how PAPP became commercialised, as it illustrates the power of collaboration through a CRC. As CEO of the then Pest Animal Control CRC at the time of the instigation of the project, but having not lead the CRC for more six years, my perspective is obviously biased to a degree. I’ll try and summarise some of the important steps that I’ve observed:

  • A novel idea and knowledge of past experimentation. A slightly maverick scientist Clive Marks, then with the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, championed the PAPP concept within the CRC. The US Department of Agriculture had tested the chemical on coyotes during the Nixon Administration with some success, but the USA approved cyanide for coyote control, so the work was largely forgotten.
  • A good business case. Poisons for animals rarely make a normal business case. For dogs and foxes in Australia, you are talking about massive regulatory controls and barriers just for a start. Showing efficacy in the field across numerous conditions is a remarkably difficult experimental task. Developing the right formulations for field use in baits that don’t attract other species requires a mix of disciplinary skills. The total cost of R&D can’t ever be recovered by the seller of the baits, even though the impact is on whole agricultural industries. Luckily, Australian Wool Innovation was mandated to work on behalf of the whole industry and they were able to be convinced of the business case. Like all of Australia’s Rural R&D Corporations, it wasn’t just their funding that was important – AWI also contributed leadership, expertise and a good deal of patience.
  • Collaboration. The USDA kindly provided their project files on the early PAPP work because of their link to the CRC. State Governments are vital players in agriculture and land management in Australia and their involvement and cooperation is vital for field trials.
  • Long-term commitment. The Invasive Animals CRC started this work in its second term as a CRC (then Pest Animal Control CRC), but with no Commonwealth support at that time as it was outside the CRC’s existing contract. The work continued through the full third term of the CRC and has come to fruition in its fourth term. Obviously everyone involved would have been pleased if the process was quicker, but innovation in such a tough market and regulatory environment can take longer than expected and the persistence of Australian Wool Innovation, the CRC, the Federal Government and everyone else involved was vital.
  • Industry leadership. The commercial partners in the Invasive Animals CRC take the ultimate responsibility for delivery of the product onto the market. The expertise of the ultimate seller of the product was available from the beginning of the project and their knowledge of distribution, formulation, cost control, non-target impacts and regulation needed to be built in at the earliest possible stages.
  • People knowledge. Technical scientists hate to admit that we need those softer skills. But at the end of the day, animal control is actually about people. Their attitudes and understanding is a critical part of any major change in a space such as this. Over time, this project, and the whole of the Invasive Animals CRC, has increased the involvement of sociology, economics, marketing and legal skills.

The Invasive Animals CRC is leading national collaboration in relation to rabbit and carp biocontrol, as well as this wild dog control method. But the CRC closes on 30 June 2017. Other CRCs that provide major national benefits also face closure under the new “10-year rule” or perhaps because their benefits are not viewed as sufficiently commercial. In the case of Invasive Animals, the CRC and its partners are seeking to maintain the innovation momentum generated through this powerful collaboration by evolving into the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS). CISS has the support of all State governments (except Vic which is still considering proposal), industry through two RDCs (AWI and Meat and Livestock Australia), CSIRO, and four universities to date. The CISS proposal is under consideration by major Federal parties and I certainly hope the good work of the CRC is able to continue. However, I wonder whether it is efficient for so much effort to find the Federal Government “glue” to continue a CRC from a source other than the CRC Programme. Why not maintain the CRC Programme as a whole-of-government programme simply funding the best proposals?

Congratulations to the many people involved in an important project.