The Australian Capital Territory has taken steps to recognise dingoes as a distinct species in need of protection after DNA research found a population of up to 400 pure dingoes in Namadgi national park.

But farmers worry the change will hamper their efforts to protect their livestock.

At a briefing webinar in June officials from the ACT’s environment, planning and sustainable development directorate told farmers operating on 99-year leases on land adjoining the national park that they plan to update the terminology used in the ACT’s Pest Plant and Animals Act, which now uses the term ‘wild dog/dingoes’.

The change will trigger the removal of the wild dog/dingoes category from the pest animal declaration and mean dingoes are protected as a native animal under the Nature Conservation Act.

New DNA results show that the populations of wild dogs in Namadgi national park are pure dingoes, showing no domesticated dog genes. The findings align with research by Dr Kylie Cairns suggesting that most dingoes in Australia are not hybrids.

It is estimated there are between 200 and 400 dingoes in the park.

Graziers were told there would be no changes to wild dog control programs, but that the program was up for review to ensure it remained “fit for purpose”.

ACT environment minister, Rebecca Vassarotti, said any changes to control programs would based on “scientific evidence and the lived experience”.

“That is part of the journey we need to go through in terms of ensuring that there is an appropriate legislative and regulatory regime to ensure that we can manage the impact of species, whether they be wild dogs or dingoes,” Vassarotti said.

Vassarotti said the government was exploring options to formally recognise dingoes as a native animals, and would consult with both the Ngunnawal community and rural lessees to create “a sustainable long-term future for dingoes in the ACT that will work for everyone”.

Mathew Gregory is a sheep farmer who lives in the Tharwa Nass valley in Ngunnawal country at the foothills of the Namadgi national park, south of Canberra. He is concerned the reclassification could be the first step towards full protection that will remove the right for farmers to use lethal controls, including baiting, trapping and shooting.

In the past year, Gregory has lost 165 of his flock to dogs and trapped eight dogs.

His farm is one of about 15 that graze up to 40,000 sheep on properties adjoining the national park. Their only barrier is a control area under the management of the ACT government.

“Sheep farmers that join the Namadgi national park are on the frontline,” he said. “We are looking at dogs getting out of the park and colonising our rural leases.

“Backing away from lethal control methods is our greatest concern.”

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Wild dog control programs in the Namadgi national park are now focused on the borders where the animals may come into conflict with stock. In the webinar for leaseholders, officials said the genetic samples were taken from 20 animals trapped in these border regions.

Namadgi is the main habitat for dingoes in the ACT, with animals roaming freely across the border to the connecting Kosciuszko national park.

Richard Swain, a Wiradjuri man has worked in Kosciuszko national park for 30 years and is an Indigenous ambassador for the Invasive Species Council. He says farmers have persecuted the dingo, or Mirrigan, for too long. “It’s a credit to them that they survived,” he said.

Swain says lethal control disrupts an appropriately functioning pack leading it to “overbreed and overeat”.

Mirrigan are an important totem animal to First Nations peoples and feature in many Dreaming stories. Their songlines map pathways to water sources. “For me, it’s about respect for what belongs here and what was here,” Swain said.

The decision by the ACT follows an announcement by the Victorian government in March to protect dingoes on public and private land in the north-west of the state, to protect a threatened local population. Dingoes are not protected elsewhere in the Victoria.

Landholders for Dingoes is an organisation which promotes the use of exclusion fencing and livestock guardian dogs rather than lethal control methods. The group’s spokesperson, Dr Barry Traill, said it was a “really important moment” for the ACT.

“Instead of simply relying on a 19th-century approach to dealing with dingoes, which is just to kill them for ever and ever, they should actually move to what other countries have done successfully living with predators far bigger and scarier than dingoes; lions, bears, and wolves.”

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