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In Australia, Inflatable Tube Dancers Scare Dingoes Away From Livestock

At car dealerships, the 13-foot-tall flailing contraptions are meant to attract buyers. But on ranches, they scare off predators and protect the herd

“When you have sound, the dingoes will flinch. They’re a bit nervous but they don’t run away. But the wavy man, boy, they bolted," animal behavior researcher Bradley Smith tells Science magazine. (Courtesy of CQ University Australia)
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Researchers may have found one of the most energetic, colorful scarecrows in the business. A study published last month in Pacific Conservation Biology shows that an inflatable tube dancer can scare Australia’s wild dogs away from their dinner.

The wildly waving, air-powered tubes may be best known for their persistent presence in the parking lots of used car dealerships. But they have the perfect combination of size and surprise to spook wily predators that would otherwise eye up local livestock. The new study shows that air dancers are more effective than loud noises at keeping dingoes at bay. With more research, they may offer a new and nonviolent approach to dingo management.

“When you have sound, the dingoes will flinch. They’re a bit nervous but they don’t run away,” animal behavior expert Bradley Smith of CQ University in Australia tells Max Levy at Science magazine. “But the wavy man, boy, they bolted.”

Smith tested the effect of one inflatable tube man—a 13-foot-tall yellow character with a smiley face, which they named “Fred-a-Scare”—on dingoes in a wildlife sanctuary. Fred-a-Scare stood next to a bowl of dry dog food at the top of a hill so that dingoes could approach the meal without seeing it at first. As a comparison, the researchers also set up a speaker that played the sound of gunshots.

Fred-a-Scare won out, scaring nine of the dozen dingoes that showed up during three days of testing. Only one dingo ran from the audio recording of gunshots.

Smith tells Science magazine that the experiment was motivated by a successful tube dancer deterrent program in Oregon. In 2018, wolf conservationist Suzanne Stone began using 20-foot-tall tube dancer to keep wolves away from local livestock. Stone set up her first tube man after wolves killed a landowner’s pet llamas in 2018, and by 2019 there had been no further issues.

“It’s always struck me as something wolves would be particularly skittish of,” Stone told the East Oregonian’s George Plaven last February. “It’s unpredictable, and very foreign to them.”

That year, Stone set up another two inflatable tube dancer, in green and yellow, after wolves began attacking cattle on Oregon ranches. The new study is the first time that the strategy has been studied scientifically and against Australian wild dogs.

“It’s exciting … to see real [alternatives] to lethal management of dingoes,” University of Alberta conservation biologist Colleen St. Clair, who wasn’t involved in the study, tells Science magazine.

More research is needed before a line of dancing tube man will begin standing guard along the borders of Australian ranches. For one thing, all that movement requires a constant flow of air, which uses about the same amount of energy as a dishwasher, per Science magazine. Maintaining that kind of power is difficult to achieve in remote areas and hard to maintain over long stretches of time. Stone also recommends the strategy for smaller pastures where the undulating effigy is always within view of the livestock, per the East Oregonian.

The researchers will need to test whether the dingoes get over their fear of the looming tube dancers over time, St. Clair tells Science magazine. Future iterations will also incorporate more variations like lights, sounds and smells to make the tube men more frightening, Smith says in a statement.

If they work out, air dancers could be a boon for Australia’s livestock farmers. Gaps in fences created, for example, by public roads provide a path for dingoes to reach cattle, sheep and goats that farmers can’t easily block.

"We've thought about all sorts of things and done trials with flags but they fall to bits. We've even tried CD discs on fishing line but the line breaks,” sheep breeder Will Roberts tells Queensland Country Life’s Sally Gall. He now has sirens and lights set up on his fence to keep dingoes away. "You need something that's going to last, that will withstand the sun and wind. I'll try anything. The question is, how do you power it and how long will it last?"

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