Les hommes ont oublié cette vérité. Mais tu ne dois pas l'oublier, dit le renard. Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé.
Le Petit Prince, chap. 21

Monday, 30 September 2013

Feral cat vs. dingo perception: a gender-cultural bias or a real ecological difference?

Smith, N. (1999). The howl and the pussy: feral cats and wild dogs in the Australian imagination. The Australian journal of anthropology, 10(3): 288-305.

This paper looks at recent attention given to feral cats in Australia, particularly focusing on their symbolic status in eco-nationalist discourses. Australian eco-nationalism is a specific blend of environmentalist and patriotic sentiments which, in an exaggerated way, positions the feral cat as a rapacious European invader predating on native wild life. This vilification of the cat can be related to much earlier forms of (mainly European) symbolism associating the creature with femininity and evil, which I illustrate by looking at the manner in which the feral cat is opposed to the masculinised Australian wild dog—the dingo. I argue that the recent surfacing of this totemic opposition between ‘the howl and the pussycat’ is related to an eco-nationalist sense of place which simultaneously recognises and denies that the human colonisation of Australia was (and is) a form of feral invasion.

Hytten, K. F. (2009). Dingo dualisms: Exploring the ambiguous identity of Australian dingoes. Australian Zoologist, 35(1), 18-27.

How wildlife is defined, and which wildlife is accorded protection, emerges from competing constructions of nature and culture. Few species of Australian wildlife have as ambiguous an identity as dingoes. This paper identifies three dualisms that characterise discourses relating to Australian dingoes Canis lupus dingo. They are at once classified as both a pest and protected species, perceived to be feral and native, and most recently categorised as either pure or hybrid. It is argued that these dualisms are underpinned by different versions of the nature-culture dichotomy. Portrayals and perceptions of dingoes around Australia are explored to reveal how different aspects of the dualisms identified are drawn upon within different contexts. Illustrations of the contradictory constructions of dingoes highlight the need to critically deconstruct discourses relating to wildlife, particularly when they inform actions. As such, this paper demonstrates the important contribution a discourse-sensitive approach can make to understanding human perceptions of wildlife.

Letnic, M., Ritchie, E. G., & Dickman, C. R. (2012). Top predators as biodiversity regulators: the dingo Canis lupus dingo as a case study. Biological reviews, 87(2), 390-413.

Top-order predators often have positive effects on biological diversity owing to their key functional roles in regulating trophic cascades and other ecological processes. Their loss has been identified as a major factor contributing to the decline of biodiversity in both aquatic and terrestrial systems. Consequently, restoring and maintaining the ecological function of top predators is a critical global imperative. Here we review studies of the ecological effects of the dingo Canis lupus dingo, Australia's largest land predator, using this as a case study to explore the influence of a top predator on biodiversity at a continental scale. The dingo was introduced to Australia by people at least 3500 years ago and has an ambiguous status owing to its brief history on the continent, its adverse impacts on livestock production and its role as an ecosystem architect. A large body of research now indicates that dingoes regulate ecological cascades, particularly in arid Australia, and that the removal of dingoes results in an increase in the abundances and impacts of herbivores and invasive mesopredators, most notably the red fox Vulpes vulpes. The loss of dingoes has been linked to widespread losses of small and medium-sized native mammals, the depletion of plant biomass due to the effects of irrupting herbivore populations and increased predation rates by red foxes. We outline a suite of conceptual models to describe the effects of dingoes on vertebrate populations across different Australian environments. Finally, we discuss key issues that require consideration or warrant research before the ecological effects of dingoes can be incorporated formally into biodiversity conservation programs.

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