By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
Last week, more than 30 little penguins were found dead at Doctors Rocks near Wynyard on Tasmania’s north-west coast.
The discovery of the mass penguin slaughter sparked an investigation by the Parks and Wildlife Services, with initial reports suggesting the birds may have died as a result of a vicious dog attack.
The news comes after 18 little penguins were killed at Picnic Point in Ulverstone earlier this year in May and more than 80 discovered dead after three separate dog attacks at Low Head in the 12 months.
The penguin carcasses were taken for examination to confirm the cause of death.
Probe into Mass Penguin Slaughter Leads to Calls for Tougher Penalties for Dog Owners and DNA Testing
Given the series of mass penguin slaughter attacks in the last year, bringing the death toll to over 100, calls are being prompted for DNA tests to be done on the dead birds so the dogs responsible can be identified and the owners can be fined.
Speaking of the incident, Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson urged for the people to be caught.
“We have to catch these people who just don’t seem to give a sh*t what their dogs do,” Senator Whish-Wilson said.
“We are hearing report after report of penguins being slaughtered but no-one ever gets prosecuted.”
Senator Whish-Wilson said Tasmania needed to become more serious about stopping the carnage, which, along with increasing fines and using DNA testing to identify the dogs, should also include employing more rangers to act as guards and prosecutors.
Additionally, it should include learning more about the use of Maremma dogs to protect penguin colonies as they do in Warnambool in Victoria.
Maremma dogs are bred to protect almost any vulnerable flock animal and most tend to bond quickly with their designated flock, be it angoras, chickens, sheep or penguins.
They are known for their self-reliant, independent and protective temperament, and defend their flock from all-comers.
Penalty of $1,000 Per Dead Penguin Proposed
Since the prompt for tougher penalties, Eric Whoeler from Birdlife Tasmania has suggested a penalty of $1000 per dead penguin – a heavy fine that would send a message to dog owners that Tasmania values its little penguin population.
Meanwhile, Senator Whish-Wilson three years ago proposed snipers be used to shoot dogs near penguin colonies.
Premier Urges Pet Owners to be Aware of their Responsibilities
The Premier, Will Hodgman, also expressed his frustration over the mass penguin killing, labelling the latest attack “appalling.”
“We are acting and elevating efforts to reduce the occurrence of such events and also reviewing the laws to adequately protect our wildlife,” Mr Hodgman said.
“But ultimately pet owners need to be aware of their responsibilities and we need strong enough laws to reinforce that message.”
The Impact of Domestic Pets on Native Wildlife
According to the Australian Department of Environment and Energy, domestic pets have a significant and often detrimental impact on native wildlife.
Particularly when in public places, domestic pets can be a risk to a wide variety of native animals, including many common species like possums, kangaroos, wallabies, lizards and many species of bird. To more rare or threated species such as bandicoots, koalas, quolls and penguins, they present an even greater risk.
For example, some dogs have a tendency to harass and even kill native animals. Equally, it is not unusual for cats to maul birds and lizards given their instinctive nature as hunters.
Ultimately, the instinctive hunting nature and chasing behaviour of such domestic pets is expected to predominate, even though owners may carefully meet their pet’s requirements for food and shelter.
Australians greatly value their pets, with around 70 per cent of Australian households having at least one in their household.
Nevertheless, unique native animals are also widely valued and frequently enjoyed by Australians as welcomed visitors from the wild to gardens and wildlife areas.
With good pet management and respect from owners, the needs of domestic and native animals can both be met.
What the Law says about Responsible Pet Ownership in NSW
In NSW, it is the duty of the owner to take proper responsibility of their dog, particularly when in a public place. This is contained within the Companion Animals Act 1998, which also makes clear that dogs are prohibited from certain public areas too.
There is a penalty of up to $1,100 fine to a dog owner or person who isn’t the dog owner but above 16-years of age in charge of the dog, if he/she:
- Is in a public place; and
- Fails to have effective control of the dog by the use of an adequate leash, cord or chain attached to the dog while being held by him/her at the time.
If the dog has been declared a dangerous, menacing or restricted dog, the penalty goes to a maximum of $11,000 fine.
A person will not be considered to have effective control if he/she has more than four dogs under his/her control.
Anyone, including an authorised officer is allowed to seize a dog if the dog is in a public place in breach of this law.
However, if the dog owner (or person in charge of the dog) is present, the dog is now allowed to be seized unless by an authorised officer if the breach of this law continues after the dog owner is made aware of the breach.
What are the Exceptions to this Law?
You will not be in breach of this law if:
- If the area is an off-leash area, but only if the dog owner or person in charge does not have more than 4 dogs under his/her control.
- If the dog is a police dog.
- If the dog is a correctional services dog.
- If the dog is secured in a vehicle or cage or is tethered to a fixed structure or object.
- If the dog is undergoing in an obedience class, exhibition or trial.
- If the dog is being exhibited for show.
A dog is also required to wear a collar around his/her neck with a name tag attached showing the name of the dog and contact details of the dog owner. Failing to comply with this attracts a maximum penalty of up to $880 fine. If the dog is a menacing, dangerous or restricted dog, the maximum penalty is a fine of $5,500.
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