I had the good fortune to experience a great adventure this last month as my wife and I traveled to Australia and Papua New Guinea. We spent the first 2 weeks driving a rented Toyota Land Cruiser from Brisbane, Australia to an outback town called Boulia where we picked our niece who was working there. From Boulia we headed north and back to the coast, stopping at coastal cities including Townsville and Cairns before again reaching Brisbane.
Much of our time in the 4X4 felt like work as we navigated a large vehicle packed with supplies long distances and on what was for us, the opposite side of the road. Minutes ever so slowly transformed into hours and hours to days as we drove through bleakly beautiful brown, red and green landscapes. Tempted to stop before reaching our next milestone, we pushed on; just taking short pit stops to give our bladders a break and fill our stomachs with PB & J. I had been hoping to write a post about Australia dog rescue during my time, but I instead stumbled across kangaroos, dingoes, deer, rabbits and cane toads.
Being an animal lover, it is unfortunate that my first sightings of kangaroos were those that lay inert on the roadside. The company from which we rented our 4X4 warned us not to drive between dusk and dawn. With darkness in the outback, comes increased animal activity leading to greater risk for collisions, especially with kangaroos.
Even though we did not travel after dark, “Road Trains” did. Road Trains are semi-trucks pulling as many as 4 trailers at once long distances at high rates of speed. These semis have huge, imposing grills a la Mad Max which protect the vehicles in the same way that cow catchers once protected trains in past centuries. Due to the size and speed of Road Trains, breaking or swerving for an unlucky kangaroo can put the driver and his cargo into jeopardy. Unbeknownst to me, Australia’s iconic kangaroo is often times seen as more of a pest than a revered animal (much like the white tailed deer in parts of the U.S.). Numbers of kangaroos have exploded due to the lack of adequate predators. In fact, certain parts of Australia are overrun with other animals too: dingoes, small deer, rabbits and cane toads.
Before leaving for the month long trip down-under, I did some research about dingoes, Australia’s dog. It seems that the canine is responsible for taking ranchers’ sheep and in response, ranchers bait them with poison. From my reading, I learned there is a debate about whether baiting actually keeps the dingo population in check or if by poisoning the feral dogs, their population responds by going into to breeding overdrive to again reach a point of stasis. Things get real messy when one rancher baits dingoes and his neighbor rancher opts not to do so.
On a research mission at the local pub one evening (I saw no Fosters beer my whole time in Australia BTW), I learned that sharp shooters in helicopters are at times employed to exterminate kangaroos and deer in some areas. It seems that these animals eat valuable crops and cost farmers a lot of money. With a lack of predators in the food chain, man becomes the go-to.
Further research at the pub revealed a toad experiment gone awry: that of the cane toad. In the 20th century a large toad was imported to Australia and set loose to control insects that were destroying sugarcane crops. Guess what, there are no predators in Australia to keep the toads in check and their numbers have exploded. Even more distressing is that cane toads are very poisonous and they can kill any animal that tries to eat them, including crocodiles!
While traveling, I met a gentleman named Tim and his wife and their two rescue dogs. Interestingly, one of his dogs is named Cain! Tim further explained the cane toad situation to me and discussed how he needs to teach his dogs not to bother cane toads to avoid disaster. With all the poisonous/venomous creatures about, if any place is deadly for dogs or man, Australia is. But as it stands, Australia is a more deadly place for kangaroos and dingoes. If you ever get the chance, go to visit the beauty and complexity that is Australia!