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Written By

Tianna Killoran


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

9 November 2022

Connecting with community

If you drive about half an hour south of Townsville’s city centre, you might find yourself at Wildlife Surrounds Conservation Centre. Established as a wildlife preserve by JCU Alumni Shakira Todd, it is home to a variety of Australian wildlife and aims to improve education about how we can better support our native flora and fauna.

Graduating from a JCU Bachelor of Science majoring in Zoology in 2010, Shakira says she wants to help deliver better understanding about conserving Australia’s native wildlife. So, she started Wildlife Surrounds, a conservation centre that highlights the important role community plays in caring for our local environments.

“Wildlife Surrounds’ main purpose is to provide a community hub where we can bring multiple organisations together to achieve conservation outcomes for local flora and fauna,” Shakira says.

Shakira also works as a Project Officer with NQ Dry Tropics, an independent, not-for-profit company empowering landholders and communities in the Burdekin Dry Tropics region to sustainably manage land, water, soil, plants and animals.

“I’ve been with NQ Dry Tropics for nearly five years. It has led me into the natural resource management space; I work mostly with agricultural landholders to develop and troubleshoot ways they can improve or increase their productivity while also improving the environmental conditions on their property.”

It was Shakira’s experience in conservation and environmental management that led to her founding Wildlife Surrounds in 2016. “I found working as a project officer really rewarding, especially working in a lot of wetland conservation around the Burdekin region. This area is where I ended up buying the property for Wildlife Surrounds,” she says.

JCU Alumni Shakira Todd showing a native plant to three other people out in the bushland.
JCU Alumni Shakira Todd smiling and leaning against a log with a tan dingo sitting next to here and a young girl and woman with their hand on the dingo.
Left: Shakira Todd delivers information to the public about native flora and fauna conservation. Right: Shakira and guests with one of the dingoes at Wildlife Surrounds. Supplied by Shakira Todd.

Wildlife Surrounds’ dingo ambassadors

Shakira’s business is the Wildlife Surrounds Conservation Centre, which also has the sister not-for-profit incorporation, Wildlife Surrounds Conservation Fund Inc. “Through the conservation fund, we obtain donations and funding to support the conservation projects and goals of Wildlife Surrounds. We have a committee to ensure that funds are allocated properly to projects that align with our mission,” she says.

Some of the projects involve supporting educational programs. “We want to support undergraduate courses, whether that is with local universities such as JCU, or other educational providers,” Shakira says.

“The goal is to focus closely on native flora and fauna within the Burdekin dry Tropics region, including dingoes. That also means working towards collaborative conservation goals to conserve those species that may be threatened from the impacts of agriculture or urbanisation.”

Close to Shakira’s heart are four dingoes who live at Wildlife Surrounds. Shakira says these dingoes — Jarli, Jiemba, Austin and Aayla — are important ambassadors who provide essential education for the community during public exhibitions.

Shakira’s passion for dingoes came about when she was working in conservation in Victoria and learned about a key threat to the species.

“I became attuned to the widespread use of 1080 baiting that was being used throughout Australia, and the potential damage, and inhumane death it can cause to off-target animals, especially native species,” she says. While this baiting is intended to reduce pest and invasive species, there is potential secondary poisoning of native animals occurring, which is often unmonitored.

Shakira’s interest in this issue led her onto consulting work with the Australian Dingo Foundation as well as with Aus Eco Solutions, who she says were supportive of the passion and drive she had for native wildlife.

“My work with the Australian Dingo Foundation involved exploring alternatives to using baiting that could still control pests but reduced harm to off-target species,” she says. “This led me to starting the Working Dingo Saving Wildlife project, and promoting dingoes as a top-level, native apex predator to maintain the ecosystem in parts of Victoria.”

"I found my passion for the role of dingoes in the Australian ecosystem and how important they are, as well as how landholders, even grazing landholders, can coexist with them to support productivity.”

JCU Alumni and Founder of Wildlife Surrounds, Shakira Todd

JCU Alumni Shakira Toddy smiling and sitting down with a small tan dingo on her lap looking into the distance.
A black and tan dingo named Jiemba staring directly forward.
Left: Shakira with one of the dingoes at Wildlife Surrounds. Right: Jiemba is a dingo at Wildlife Surrounds with a black, tan and white coat. Supplied by Shakira Todd.

Supporting wildlife research

Shakira says her work continues to combat misinformation about dingoes by promoting scientific research.

“When most people think of dingoes they often think of the sandy colour like those on K’Gari (Fraser Island), but dingoes can be other colours as well. Jiemba, for example, is a black, white and tan dingo,” Shakira says.

Shakira says one of the biggest issues is the misidentification of dingoes as wild dogs throughout Australia. “Even though many dingoes have no domestic dog ancestry, they’ve been labelled as wild dogs. This is often used to justify lethal dingo control programs, by methods such as 1080 baiting.

“Thanks to research funded by the Australian Dingo Foundation, with a lot of research undertaken by Dr Kylie Cairns, we have the science to support the idea that most ‘wild dogs’ are actually dingoes,” Shakira says.

“For example, one of my colleagues collected a DNA sample from a dingo at Julago on the Bruce Highway in Townsville. The sample was sent to Kylie to analyse, and it came back that this was a pure dingo with no domestic dog ancestry.”

“This was just on the outskirts of Townsville, so the common myth that dingoes are only on Fraser Island or in a small pocket in the Simpson Desert is just not true,” Shakira says. “The term ‘wild dogs’ needs to be boycotted. The fact is that wild dog control is actually dingo control.”

JCU Alumni Shakira Todd smiling while holding a young wallaby in a fabric pouch in her arms.
A small northern quoll that is brown with white spots crouching and its reflection showing up side down.
Left: Shakira with a rescue wallaby. Right: A northern quoll, which is a small endangered mammal found around Wildlife Surrounds. Supplied by Shakira Todd.

A career in conservation

In the future, Shakira hopes to take up her conservation work at Wildlife Surrounds full time.

“I really look forward to the future and achieving all of these outcomes for Wildlife Surrounds,” she says. “I’d love to have the flexibility to work with other organisations from our beautiful property that is bordering on the Bowling Green Bay National Park.”

Shakira says she enjoys that Wildlife Surrounds and the surrounding National Park has many types of unique flora and flora and wants to educate others about this. “The Northern Quoll is particularly known here, as well as the Mount Elliot leaf-tailed gecko. This gecko is endemic to Mount Elliot, which means it is only found here, and I have seen it on hikes within the national park.

“Stepping out from my office door into nature every morning is just one of the things I’m looking forward to in the future. I also would like to achieve really significant conservation outcomes either through education or on-ground works,” she says.

For Shakira, community is central to this conservation work. "We will be connecting more with the wider community, such as schools, education groups or the general public to provide tours and workshops, educating them on things like specific weed control species or Northern Quoll conservation.”

Want to learn more about Wildlife Surrounds and their conservation? Check out how you can volunteer, donate or get in contact if you would like to take part in educational tours.

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