The difference lies in demography and management. Because humans do not manage wild cattle, their populations contain 50% males, all males are bulls, and the age structure is not geared towards the most reproductively active part of a cow’s life. In such a herd, every calf is precious. Every calf lost a tragedy. The effects of dingoes are therefore likely to differ significantly between cattle managed for maximum reproduction and those that are wild.
In our previous post on wild camels, we discussed how the dingo, a relatively small apex predator, could influence megaherbivore. The same goes for wild cattle. For example, the wild cattle gracing our Simpson Desert study site, behave very differently to the domestic cattle we managed on Evelyn Downs, a predator-friendly cattle station.
The wild cattle were never observed hanging around water, although on some nights the bulls congregated at the water for a few hours to roar and proclaim their territorial might. Some nights the bull-roars were louder than the dingo-howls. By contrast, the cows and calves were always shy: coming in to drink at night and leaving quickly moving, back out into the sand dunes as far as 40 km from water. Who were they afraid of? Humans? Dingoes? Fighting bulls? Perhaps all three. Whatever the reason, our experimental water has thus far remained lush with vegetation even though the nearest water is over 50 km away and the summers are ruthlessly hot.
We have been studying dingo-wild cattle interactions for five years thus far. The investigation continues! Stay tuned.
By Arian Wallach