Should the dingoes on Fraser Island have been culled?
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Echo Issue Outline 2001 / 12
On April 30, 2001, a nine-year-old boy, Clinton Gage, was mauled to death by two dingoes. This happened on Fraser Island, Queensland. Clinton Gage's younger brother was also attacked.
This is the first fatal attack by dingoes on the island, however, Fraser Island dingoes have attacked several people and the attacks appear to be becoming more frequent. In March and April 1998 there were a number of attacks including an attempt by one dingo to drag off a 13-month baby girl.
The two dingoes believed to have been responsible for the fatal attack were immediately destroyed. The Queensland premier, Mr Peter Beattie ordered that a risk assessment be undertaken to see how many dingoes the island could safely sustain.
Once the risk has been determined a cull is expected.
On May 2, 2001, before the assessment had been completed, the Queensland premier ordered an immediate cull of the dingo pack in the area where the attack occurred. Animals that appeared aggressive or noticeably unafraid of humans were also to be culled.
Some 35 dingoes were shot in this initial cull. More are likely to be shot when the risk assessment has been completed.
This initial cull has been criticised by conservationists, dingo support groups and the Aboriginal owners of Fraser Island. It was also criticised as premature by the Queensland Opposition.
The Queensland government has defended the cull as necessary to protect public safety.
Culling was considered in 1998, when a draft dingo management strategy was developed, which included culling as a management option. However, the plan has not yet been put into effect.
It has been estimated that in the last four years some dozen dingoes have been culled.
What they said ...
'As far as I am concerned I'd rather see a hundred dingoes in a grave than one child'
Mr Dean Monaghan, chairman of the Fraser Island Wilderness Club
'If we had people at Surfers Paradise feeding sharks, who would we blame if there was a shark attack?'
Ms Felicity Wishart, the coordinator of the Queensland Conservation Council
Copyright © Echo Education Services
First published in The Echo on-line newspaper information site.
Issue outline by J M McInerney
Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island, is about 200km north of Brisbane, off Hervey Bay. It is 160km long and between 7km and 22km wide.
The island, covered by forest and spectacular sand hills, has become a major tourist attraction. The most recent figures indicate some 300,000 tourists a year visit it.
It has a dingo population variously estimated at between 160 and 200. Most reports have put the figure at approximately 160.
The dingo colony is seen as significant because it is one of the purest dingo breeding populations in Australia - its members not having interbred extensively with domestic or feral dogs, unlike most mainland populations.
The history of white Australian interaction with dingoes has seen them classed as vermin for most of the period since white settlement. They have been particularly unpopular because of the threat they pose to livestock, especially lambs.
Generally, however, dingoes have not been regarded as a significant threat to people.
(It was in part for this reason that Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were disbelieved when, in 1980, they claimed their baby daughter was taken by a dingo from their Ayers Rock campsite. Mrs Chamberlain was found guilty of the child's murder and her husband of being an accessory after the fact. Their convictions were later quashed, but only after Mrs Chamberlain had been imprisoned for three years.)
Concern about Fraser Island's dingo population has grown, as there have been a number of recent attacks.
In March 1997, a five-year-old boy required hospital treatment after he was attacked by three dingoes while playing hide-and-seek with his younger sister at an outdoor dining area at a resort on the island. While only a week before the attack on the 13-month-old girl, two British tourists were attacked while washing their cooking utensils at a surf beach.
Dingo culling on Fraser Island was proposed in 1998 after a dingo attempted to drag off a 13-month-old baby girl. The Echo produced an issue outline on dingo culling at that tyime. This provides useful background information on the issue.
It can be found at http://search.echoed.com.au/docsout/97_98/dingo.htm
The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service has an Internet site which gives information on Fraser Island. This section of the site can be found at http://www.env.qld.gov.au/cgi-bin/w3-msql/environment/park/discover/resultframe.html?id=255&view=description
The site has a copy of the information brochure that is supplied to tourists when they receive their permit to visit the island.
The brochure is titled 'Be dingo smart' and can be downloaded from the address just given. It is a pdf format document and can only be read or downloaded using Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Tourists are advised to:
Stay close to your children.
Walk in small groups
Watch dingoes quietly; don't excite them.
Look out for dingoes; stay calm.
NEVER feed dingoes.
Lock up your food stores.
Pack away your food scraps.
Keep fish and bait off the ground.
Make your tent boring for dingoes - keep your belongings safe.
Tell others how to be Dingo-Smart!'
Since the death of Clinton Gage, a new section has been added to the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service's Fraser Island information site. It is titled 'Frequently asked questions' and gives the Queensland Government's defence in response to criticisms made of the handling of the dingo issue, including the accusation that the government did not act quickly enough on the dingo management strategy drafted for Fraser Island after the 1998 attacks.
The government's response to these criticisms can be found at http://www.env.qld.gov.au/environment/new/statements/introduction.html
In 1995, the CSIRO produced a press release indicating that the Australian dingo was in danger of becoming extinct, primarily as a result of interbreeding with domestic and feral dogs. The release refers to the work of Dr Laurie Corbett, the man who reviewed Fraser Island's dingo management strategies for the Queensland Government in 1998.
The release is titled, `No more yellow dog dingo?'
The release can be found at http://www.csiro.au/communication/mediarel/mr95068.htm
Unfortunately the Queensland Government does not appear to have made the recommendations of the Fraser Island dingo management strategy available on the Internet. However, the Fraser Island Defence Organisation has responded in detail to the draft management plan and from this response can be gathered some of the strategies the plan recommended.
There were seven recommendations in all. Included in these were recommendations that the public be educated about the dangers associated with feeding dingoes. Other human risk behaviours were to be made known to tourists. There was to be some study of the long-term viability of the dingo population on the island. Also included, as possible 'management' strategies, were 'relocation, culling and destruction'.
The Fraser Island Defenders Organization (FIDO) has published its detailed response to the Fraser Island dingo management strategy. This response endorses the first four recommendations of the strategy, though with significant reservations.
It criticises the plan because it has no clear long-term objective. FIDO argues that that objective has to be the preservation of the Fraser Island dingo population and further that that population must be retained in its natural habitat.
FIDO criticises the plan for focusing on dingo populations only since 1995 and thus ignoring evidence that the island has previously supported much larger dingo populations than it currently does.
FIDO argues that the recommendations of the management plan do not consider all harmful human behaviours. FIDO also argues that regulations restricting the behaviour of tourists need to be rigorously enforced. It further criticises the QPWS personnel on the island for a lackadaisical attitude.
Finally, FIDO is opposed to relocation, culling or destruction of the dingoes.
The full FIDO response can be found at http://www.fido.org.au/DingoManagement.html
It is a thoughtful and detailed document and repays careful reading.
FIDO's Honorary Project Officer, John Sinclair, has also written a detailed comment on the history of the dingo on Fraser Island and on the how the dingoes should be managed after the death of Clinton Gage.
The comment can be found at http://www.fido.org.au/moonbi/DingoStory20010502.html
The Australian Native Dog Conservation Society Limited has a home page giving detailed information on dingoes and the Society's dingo sanctuary.
The site also clicks through to a statement of the Conservation Society's position on the culling of dingoes on Fraser Island. This position statement was written after Clinton Gage was mauled to death.
The statement is critical of proposals to cull the dingoes on Fraser Island and discusses in detail some of the factors that it claims made the recent fatal attack both predictable and avoidable.
The position statement can be found at http://www.zip.com.au/~merigal/core.html
Marian Wright, who travelled as a backpacker and tourist to Fraser Island in January 1994 has written an account, titled 'Dingo story', of an episode which occurred there. The story relates the apparently harmless theft by a dingo of Ms Wright's hiking boot and some of her food.
What the story serves to show is the fearlessness of the dingoes and the extent to which such thefts from campers' tents were commonplace as far back as 1994.
The story is published in the on-line magazine Urban Desires and can be found at http://desires2.desires.com/2.3/Travel/Dingo/Docs/dingo1.html#1
The School of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics at the University of New South Wales is conducting a study to discover the genotype or genetic composition of true dingoes. The aim of the project is to help ensure that dingo-breeding programs are preserving pure dingo populations. `
The Internet account of the program is titled 'Genetic variation in the Australian Dingo'.
The account can be found at http://www.bioc.unsw.edu.au/anw/dingo.html
Animal Liberation (South Australia) gives a detailed account of a range of humane methods that can be used to control species that are regarded as pests. The article is titled, 'Alternatives to Killing'. It has a section dealing specifically with dingo control.
The information can be found at
The Dingo Farm at Castlemaine, Victoria, also has a home page. This site clicks through to an All about Dingoes page that in turn clicks through to information on the regulations controlling dingo ownership in the different states.
The site can be found at http://www.wwwins.net.au/dingofarm/
Hostility towards dingoes and wild dogs appears greatest in country areas where they pose the greatest risk to livestock. Thus Queensland, with its extensive cattle runs, is one of two states in Australia where it is not possible to gain a licence to keep dingoes domestically.
Approximately a month before dingoes killed a nine-year-old boy on Fraser Island, the Queensland Department of Natural Resources announced it was trialling a mechanical ejector that releases a fatal dose of cyanide that will kill a dog or dingo within about two minutes.
The story can be found on the ABC's archive of the Queensland edition of Country Hour for April 11, 2001. It can be found at http://www.abc.net.au/rural/qld/stories/s275831.htm
Attitudes towards dingoes appear to be hardening in the wake of the death of the child on Fraser Island.
Townsville City Council is likely to go ahead with a cull of dingoes in the city's suburbs. Deputy mayor Anne Bunnell has claimed the proposed cull is in response to an increase in phone calls expressing concerns about dingo populations, but she agreed some of the concern may have been prompted by recent local media reports after the death of Clinton Gage.
The ABC's report on this development can be found at http://abc.net.au/news/regionals/townsville/regtnv-8jun2001-6.htm
Reasons why dingoes should have been culled
1. The dingoes posed an immediate threat to human safety
The Queensland premier, Mr Peter Beattie, has made this point. Mr Beattie has stated, 'I know there is criticism of out decision to cull - I would simply state that a young boy has died.'
Mr Beattie has further stated, 'This is an immediate, sensible and constructive response to deal with what we regard, and by evidence, is clearly a threat to human life.'
Dean Monaghan, chairman of the Fraser Island Wilderness Club, has stated, 'I don't want to see every dog killed. But as far as I am concerned I'd rather see a hundred dingoes in a grave than one child. It's purely a commonsense approach. A rogue dog is a rogue dog.'
2. Only those animals believed to pose a danger were killed
The Queensland government has stated that two criteria were used to determine whether a dingo should be included in the initial cull.
The first was if the dingo was aggressive. It has been noted that this criterion has been the basis for dingo culling decisions on the island for some time.
The second criterion was if the dingo inhabited or frequented populated areas and showed no fear of humans, that is, had been habituated to people. It has been claimed that these dingoes presented an unacceptable potential risk of becoming aggressive and dangerous, and the Government has stated that it was not prepared to take this risk.
3. The culling of thirty animals will not endanger the dingo breeding population
The Queensland Government has claimed that there is no evidence to suggest that the partial cull will adversely affect Fraser Island's dingo population.
The Government claims, 'The dingo is a resilient species and the island will still have enough dingoes to ensure genetic diversity and the long-term future of the species on Fraser.'
It has also been noted that some 12 dingoes have been culled over the last four years with no obvious adverse effect on the viability of Fraser Island's dingo population.
4. The dingoes were humanely killed
It has been claimed that all the rangers involved in the cull were fully authorised, licensed and trained in the humane destruction of animals. It has been further claimed that each of the animals culled was killed as quickly and cleanly as possible, usually with a bullet to the head.
It has also been noted that the dingoes that have been culled were killed away from people so that there was no danger to tourists, campers and residents of Fraser Island.
National parks ranger, Mr Paul Fishburn, has commented on the first dingo culled, which Mr Fishburn killed. 'This was a safe kill because she was away from the tents and people.'
5. Other measures for controlling the interaction between humans and dingoes had been tried
The Queensland Government has claimed that a substantial number of the actions recommended in the draft dingo management strategy have been put in place. These have included the culling of aggressive dingoes (more than a dozen in the last four years), fining of people feeding dingoes (55 fines issued since 1995) and comprehensive public awareness measures.
Information has been made available at all sources of tourists to the island of which Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) has been aware and has included training sessions for tourist operators and staff.
6. A cull was recommended by the draft dingo management strategy
The draft Fraser Island Dingo Management Strategy made a number of recommendations as to how dingoes might be managed. Included in these proposals was culling.
Culling of dingoes has been part of Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service's standard operational procedures for more than a decade, with more than a dozen dingoes culled in the past four years.
Prior to the island being managed by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, forestry workers on the island regularly culled dingoes.
Reasons why dingoes should not have been culled
1. The partial cull will not be effective as a means of protecting tourists
It has been claimed that the culling of thirty to thirty-five dingoes will have no permanent impact on the safety of tourists visiting Fraser Island and may not even have a short-term effect.
It has been noted that some forty dingoes have been destroyed over the last decade and yet the wild dogs still forage around campsites and are becoming increasingly more fearless around people.
Some critics of the cull have argued that all such actions do is clear out a territory around a campsite so that another pack of dingoes can move into it.
Those with this view argue that a range of long-term strategies involving modifying the behaviour of tourists and altering the feeding patterns of dingoes are needed.
2. The primary responsibility for the change in dingo behaviour rests with the tourists
Barry Oakman, the president and founder of the Australian Dingo Conservation Association has stated, 'It's a human problem, not a dingo problem. The rangers on Fraser Island must enfoirce the warnings [against feeding dingoes] because people aren't heeding the signs.'
Felicity Wishart, the coordinator of the Queensland Conservation Council, has stated, 'If we had people at Surfers Paradise feeding sharks, who would we blame if there was a shark attack?'
3. The killing of thirty dingoes will have a significant impact on the dingoes' pack structure
It has been claimed that killing 30 dingoes will damage pack structure and the normal pattern of socialisation that goes on within dingo packs will not occur.
Barry Oakman, the president and founder of the Australian Dingo Conservation Association, has suggested that this disruption of pack structure will actually lead to an increase in so-called 'rogue dingoes'.
4. The Fraser Island dingoes are significant in any attempt to preserve the dingo in Australia
It has been claimed that the dingoes on Fraser Island have a special significance and so should be preserved. The greatest threat to the survival of dingoes is hybridisation. Dingoes are in danger of losing their genetic uniqueness through inter-breeding with introduced dogs.
The Dingoes on Fraser island have had relatively little contact with domestic dogs and so are genetically a very pure strain.
5. The government has reacted in a knee-jerk fashion, motivated in part by political considerations
The Queensland Government has been criticised for the speed with which it decided to implement the partial cull. Immediately after Clinton Gage's death, Premier Beattie stated that the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service would await the results of a risk assessment before beginning any cull of the dingoes on Fraser Island.
Then, a matter of days later, before the risk assessment had been completed, the Premier authorised the culling of some thirty dingoes.
It has been suggested that the Queensland Government had bowed to political pressure. It was being criticised by the state opposition for its failure to fully and speedily implement the Fraser Island dingo management strategy produced after the 1998 attacks. There was also a great deal of distress within the Queensland electorate over the boy's death and the apparent failure of the Government to take effective action.
Critics of the cull have condemned it as a solution to Premier Beattie's political problem rather than a serious attempt to address the dingo problem on Fraser Island.
Ann Jeffree, in a letter published in The Age on May 4, has described any cull as 'a cynical, knee-jerk, vote-garnering exercise'.
6. Neither the Queensland Government nor Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services have done sufficient to discover and implement other long-term solutions to the problem
Critics of the dingo culling have claimed that other alternatives have not been properly investigated.
In 1998 it was proposed that dingo-feeding stations be established. It has also frequently been suggested that dingo proof fencing be put up in some areas were there are usually large numbers of tourists. Neither of theses measures has been tried.
The future for the dingoes on Fraser Island looks bleak. Dingoes, as wild dogs, have traditionally been human camp followers. Despite the claims that dingoes should be left to live as they would 'naturally' and not be made dependent on human handouts, it is likely that in the thousands of years during which dingoes shared the island with aborigines the two groups had an interdependent relationship.
John Sinclair of the Fraser Island Defence Organisation has noted that at least since the 1900s dingoes have been relatively fearful of human beings and yet the island has reportedly sustained much larger numbers of dingoes than currently live there. The implication would appear to be that at least in the recent past there have been sufficient food sources on the island for the dingoes not to have to scavenge from humans.
There are numerous possible reasons for this. The bandicoot population on the island was once far greater than it now is. The island also once carried significant numbers of brumbies and goats on which the dingoes could feed.
However, since 1992 the island went from the control of the Forest Commission to that of Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services. For the dingoes this does not seem to have been a good thing. Introduced feral animals have been removed from the island. This has meant that the brumbies and goats are now gone. At the same time QPWS has closed down the three dumps at which the dingoes used to scavenge. The last was closed in 1996.
While the dingoes' sources of food were being reduced the number of tourists visiting the island has risen from some 5,000 annually to over 300,000. What this has meant is that a hungry dingo population has been brought into increasing contact with a human population which carries food, smells of food and uses food to entice dingoes closer in order to take photographs of them.
It does not seem realistic under these circumstances to hope that warnings against feeding dingoes and imposing heavy fines for doing so will stop dingo incursions into tourist camps. It has also been noted that encouraging tourists to bury fish offal and make their campsites tidier places where the pickings are fewer will not solve the problem. Hungry animals simply become more desperate.
Bruce Jacobs, a dingo expert from Castlemaine in Victoria, has claimed that dingoes' 'main diet on Fraser Island is licking the tops of barbecues and the fat that splatters on the sand'.
In 1998, when culling was being mooted after a dingo had attempted to drag off a 13-month-old baby girl, Bruce Jacobs proposed that feeding stations, stocked with high quality dog food, be set up in remote parts of the island. Dr Laurie Corbett, who produced the draft dingo management strategy, did not take up this suggestion, nor did the Fraser Island Defence Organisation that appears to prefer attempts to have dingoes become fully self-reliant.
For the dingo to be fully self-reliant experts would have to be sure there was sufficient 'natural' food available to them. This may not be the case. Further, given that another human death is likely to result in the complete extermination of the Fraser Island dingoes there may not be time to experiment with other solutions. Feeder stations look like a simple, if partial, answer. Interestingly, however, they do not seem to have even been proposed this time round.
Newspaper items used in the preparation of this outline
Available as a press cuttings package (with an issue outline reprint): price: $27.00 (NO LONGER AVAILABLE)
1/5/01 page 1 news item by Greg Roberts, 'Island dingo threat "ignored"'
1/5/01 page 2 news item by Greg Roberts, 'Dingoes rely on human feeding'
2/5/01 page 3 news item by Greg Roberts, 'Beattie orders dingo cull as family struggles with loss'
3/5/01 page 11 news item by Greg Roberts, 'Aboriginal owners against dingo cull'
4/5/01 page 4 news item, 'Bid to halt dingo slaughtering'
4/5/01 page 14 letter from Bronwyn Hutton, 'Dingo problem nothing new'
5/5/01 page 10 comment by Karen Kissane, 'It's time tourists took the wilderness seriously'
5/5/01 page 7 (News Extra) comment by Geoff Strong, 'What the dingo cull tells us'
6/5/01 page 22 editorial, 'Living with the wild dogs'
1/5/01 page 1 news item by Matt Robbins, Kevin Meade and Paul Toohey, 'These dogs do kill children'
1/5/01 page 4 news item by Kevin Meade, 'Tourists to blame for dark side of paradise'
1/5/01 page 4 news item by Stefanie Balogh, 'Beattie orders study to assess future risk'
2/5/01 page 6 news item by Stafanie Balogh, 'State was alerted to risk two years ago'
2/5/01 page 7 comments by Barry Oakham and Dean Monaghan, 'Cull of the wild'
2/5/01 page 7 comment by Stephen Brook, 'Campers and native dogs a dangerous combination'
2/5/01 page 10 editorial, 'Dithering on dingoes brings tragedy'
3/5/01 page 1 news item by Matt Robbins, 'Shoot to kill ... this is what's to come'
3/5/01 page 4 news item by Stefanie Balogh, 'It's a knee-jerk cull, say greens'
The Herald Sun
1/5/01 page 1 news item by Glenis Green, 'Dingo kills'
1/5/01 page 4 news item by Paula Doneman, 'Dingoes stalked woman and baby'
2/5/01 page 3 news item by Michelle Pountney, 'Warned of disaster'
2/5/01 page 20 editorial, 'Dingoes v. tourists'
3/5/01 page 5 news item, 'Dingo slaughter begins'
3/5/01 page 11 news item by Ainsley Pavey and Barbara Adam, 'First dingo shot dead'