Wild dogs, (include feral cross-breed dogs, dingoes and hybrids of the two) can cause substantial suffering to livestock when they kill or injure sheep, calves or other young animals. They are the subject of a number of control programs across Australia because of their potential to cause environmental and agricultural damage. A national wild dog action plan has been implemented to minimise the impact of wild dogs in specific areas. The main ways in which wild dogs are controlled is through trapping and baiting programs.
The RSPCA is not opposed to the use of lethal control methods for pest animals, provided that there is justification for such killing and there is no effective, humane non-lethal alternative method available. However, the RSPCA is opposed to any method of control that does not result in a humane death. Several current methods of trapping do not meet this requirement, and animals caught in such traps can suffer greatly for a considerable time before they are finally killed.
There is a range of steel-jawed and other leg-hold traps used in Australia. Some States and Territories have placed restrictions on the type of traps that can be used, with conventional steel jawed traps illegal in most jurisdictions (ACT, NSW, NT, Tasmania and Victoria but not Queensland, SA and WA), with most still permitting padded jaw traps. However, all jawed traps are capable of inflicting pain and suffering when animals are caught. Traps may be set in remote areas where there is no possibility of checking them daily, and dogs (or other, non-target, species) could potentially remain caught in a trap for several days until they are killed. Even though this situation results in unacceptable cruelty, the RSPCA cannot prosecute as pest animal control legislation overrides the provisions of animal welfare legislation.
The use of any type of live trap can cause suffering if the captured animal injures itself when attempting to escape, is rendered vulnerable to attack from other animals, or is restrained for a long period without food, water or shelter. Such traps should only be used in circumstances that avoid potential suffering and where regular, at least daily, checks are made. Traps incorporating strychnine-laced cloth which are designed to kill dogs where daily trapping is not carried out are not humane. A humaneness model to compare animal welfare aspects of different control methods has been developed and the ‘strychnine’ leg/foot traps rate very poorly.
Research has been undertaken to improve the humaneness of traps including:
- Tranquiliser trap devices – these deliver sedatives to reduce distress
- Lethal trap devices – designed to encourage ingestion of lethal baits – more research is needed to identify a more humane and effective poison
- More humane traps as alternatives to leg/foot hold traps – cage traps, soft net or neck snare types are more humane but not effective
- Trap alert systems – to enable operators to undertake humane killing as quickly as possible
However, these are not being used widely and so significant welfare concerns remain. A national code of practice for humane control of wild dogs, and standard operating procedures for padded jaw traps have been developed but contain only minimal standards
The RSPCA believes that action should be taken to facilitate the adoption of alternative trapping devices for all wild dog trapping.