It became very clear to Brooke that you cannot improve animal management without consulting with, and building the capacity of the local people, and this means taking the time to sit and listen.”

Brooke Kennedy
Doctoral candidate
School of Environmental and Rural Science.

Brooke Kennedy, an Indigenous PhD researcher in the School of Environmental and Rural Science, became a Zoologist to do her part to help conserve Australia’s precious wildlife. During the third year of her degree at UNE, Brooke was presented with an opportunity to volunteer with a not-for-profit organization that facilitated the Dog Health Program on the Tiwi Islands. Tiwi Islands are located about 60km north of Darwin and are one of only two of Australia’s bio-regions to still contain more than 50% of its native species, though some of thesespecies are declining and being placed on the threatened species list.

Commenting on her visit to Wurrumiyanga, Tiwi’s Capital, Brooke said, “I was absolutely blown away by the strong traditional culture that is lived every day.” The not-for-profit, Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities (AMRRIC), is an organisation based in Darwin that sends vets to remote communities, and their dog health program on the Tiwi Islands had been running for over 20 years, with a one-week visit twice a year. With a third visit funded by UNE’s Canine and Equine Department, Brooke returned in her Honours year (2014) and evaluated the dog health program and the success it achieved in increasing the percentage of dogs desexed (towards decreasing the dog population), the decrease in skin scores (indicating fewer parasites) and the averaging of ideal body condition scores. Brooke’s work on this has been published, with a particular focus on how collaboration between multiple stakeholders can improve animal management. Two years later, Brooke returned to Wurrumiyanga to follow up on this work and to begin her PhD on improving dog management in remote Aboriginal communities. What she discovered changed her way of thinking and, she says, a major part of her research. Not only had the community becomehome to a boom of pet cats, but also the health of the dogs had returned to what it had been at the beginning of the original research. Brooke realised pretty quickly this was because the research had included stakeholders from many areas, researchersfrom UNE, AMRRIC volunteer Vets, and Tiwi Islands Regional Council, but it did not include the Wurrumiyanga community.

Though the community members were asked questions, and permissions were given to de-sex and/or treat their dogs for parasites, the community was not involved with the processes used and no training or knowledge sharing took place to create a sustainable program that the community could continue to deliver after ‘white institutions’, such as herself and others from the various organisations, left. Brooke’s insights here are crucial to understanding how research needs to be undertaken with Indigenous communities. She says, “Like many other remote Aboriginal communities, the Tiwi community have been researched countless times by what they call ‘seagulls’, meaning ‘fly in then fly out’ and never seen again. It became very clear to Brooke that you cannot improve animal management without consulting with, and building the capacity of the local people, and this means taking the time to sit and listen, to ask the community what they would like, and determine what they are passionate about in order to get them involved in the process and continue to be a part of a program that can be sustained.”

So instead of focusing her PhD research project just on animal management, Brooke is now looking at building the capacity of the community to improve animal management on a long-term basis through methods that have been used on many complex issues, globally, but not in animal management. Brooke has designed a “frame of frameworks”—steps that can be followed to solve the complex issue of animal management in a remote Aboriginal community, by the community. Brooke says that “the ‘frame analysis’ method supports the identification of the stakeholders in animal management and, importantly, gains their perspectives on the issues involved.” Brooke has organised Focus Group Discussions, which are currently underway, to determine not only the impacts of these issues but also their systemic causes. She is then looking to identify interventions, which will be discussed with the communities after using what researchers know as a Casual Loop Analysis, and working through this with community members so that everyone can see the vicious cycle, and how intervening at the ‘cause’ will work to cease or reduce the issue and therefore its impacts.

Following this, Brooke’s next steps are to assist the community to work collaboratively using the Collaboration for Impact framework and its 5 principles of a common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication and backbone organisation. Based on these steps, the community will then be guided by the newly formed community-led backbone organisation (or animal management group in this case) to carry out the interventions.

Brooke’s research has been gaining momentum. She has collected baseline data on the dogs and cats in Wurrumiyanga focusing on various areas of their ecology. ‘Door-to-door’ censuses have been carried out at multiple timepoints to determine the population size and its demographics. Particularly important has been recording the dogs’ roaming behaviours so that Brooke knows the extent of not only their spatial and temporal ecology but also their contact rates which will be crucial if rabies ever hits Tiwi. Roaming behaviours have been recorded using remote sensing cameras along transects and iGotU GPS loggers on individual animals. Brooke has also conducted a community-wide questionnaire with dog owners to determine their animal’s food, housing, and behaviours (for example, their hunting habits), and records from the heath clinic have been requested for numbers of dogrelated incidents.

Data will be collected again to determine any changes in animal management/health post-intervention. Another community wide survey will be utilized to evaluate the participatory process of conducting the ‘frame of frameworks’, whether it was taken up by the community and what did and did not work.

Brooke is convinced that getting the community interested and passionate about how they are living with animals is key to creating a sustainable animal management program that will ultimately improve the health of not only the dogs but also their owners, the general community and the native wildlife.

[Top banner image by Brooke Kennedy.]