A prosecutable interim conservation order, labelled “an outrageous political stunt”, has been lifted from the Hinchinbrook Shire Council even though it failed to comply with orders to remove two dingoes from Pelorus Island as part of a feral goat control experiment.
Mayor Raymon Jayo said they were grateful that their explanations for being unable to remove the animals had been settled outside the court arena.
A shire trial to eradicate 300 goats from the rocky island in the Palm Island group north of Townsville by releasing wild dogs was approved by the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Ethics Committee in May 2016, but news of the dog’s release prompted an outcry from sectors of the community.
Animal cruelty concerns were aired, both in relation to the method of killing the island’s goat population, with RSPCA CEO, Mark Townend saying leaving goats to die a “horrible, painful death is the wrong attitude for 2016”, and for the sterilised dogs, which are implanted with 1080 capsules timed to release in less than a year’s time.
It led to the label of “death row dingoes”, and in mid-August 2016, Environment Minister Steven Miles issued the conservation order, saying he was alarmed about the “lack of thought for the native animals on the island”, specifically a threatened bird species, the beach stone-curlew.
“As of today no dogs can be released on to Pelorus Island and any wild dogs already on the island must be removed within the next 14 days,” he said.
Cr Jayo confirmed his council had received notification that the Department of Environment and Heritage would take no further action against the council in relation to the dogs’ removal.
“We didn’t thumb our nose at the order – we went over and attempted to comply but we couldn’t catch them,” he said. “We had meetings with the department and explained our attempts and they agreed they were valid reasons.”
‘Outrageous political stunt’
Opposition Natural Resources spokesman, Andrew Cripps, was a long-term opponent of the government intervention, and said the news was an “admission that the ridiculous order issued to the council by the Environment Minister, Steven Miles, to remove the dogs, was nothing but an outrageous political stunt”.
He described the intervention in an “innovative and what has proven to be effective” feral goat control program was a disgraceful abuse of the minister’s executive powers, given the HSC proposal had been endorsed by public servants in two separate departments.
”At the time, the minister attempted to justify his actions by claiming that the two dogs posed a threat to beach stone-curlews.
“Minister Miles has never produced any evidence that beach stone-curlews were present on Pelorus Island – it was just part of his dishonest, politically motivated, attention-seeking stunt.”
He called on Mr Miles to apologise to the ratepayers of the Hinchinbrook shire and refund the ratepayers’ money used in attempting to comply with the order.
Wild dogs remain
The two wild dogs remain on the island and Cr Jayo said it was “pretty gratifying” to see the island begin to rejuvenate since the grazing pressure of the goats has been reduced.
“The island was eroding and falling into the ocean,” he said.
“We didn’t want it to disappear. At the end of the day you’ve got to do the best for the greater good.
“We think that’s achieved by preserving the island.
“You can breed new goats and new dogs but you can’t breed new islands.”
Cr Jayo said the trial was being continually evaluated by officers of his shire and by University of Southern Queensland researcher, Ben Allen, in accordance with the original permit conditions.
“Once that’s concluded, we’ll go back to the government with the results.”
That’s expected to happen in the first half of 2018.
Cr Jayo was not prepared to speculate on the outcomes at this stage.