Death of the Fraser Island dingo

Without action, Fraser Island’s dingoes will be extinct in 20 years. ogwen/Flickr

Fraser Island dingoes, a population facing extinction, are back in the news again, but for all the wrong reasons.

The latest? Australian rangers have killed two dingoes believed to have mauled a three-year-old girl at the end of a camping trip on the island, in north-eastern Queensland, on Monday.

Predictably, as when other attacks of this sort happen, calls for aggressive culling have resurfaced.

A minority voice points to the fact that visitors to the island have some basic responsibilities.

The fact people (and I’m not suggesting this was the case with the unfortunate family in question) have been feeding these animals against all advice and regulations, means the dingoes have grown accustomed to people and have at times become aggressive, mainly when they are hungry.

Which is often.

The end of the affair

Fraser Island’s dingo population is facing extinction within the next ten to 20 years.

It is racing towards a catastrophic collapse which will have disastrous ramifications for the island’s native ecosystem.

Population figures released by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) record current numbers at between 100 and 200, with 25 to 30 packs (averaging six to eight per pack).

This would account for an actual breeding group of approximately 50 animals (within packs, only the alpha male and female breed).

If this number is accurate (or even if the number is doubled) it falls well below accepted scientific criterion for a viable minimum population of 200 breeding animals.

Why is the Fraser Island dingo so important?

These animals are unique. Thanks in large part to Fraser Island’s isolation (it is only accessible by ferry from mainland Australia) its dingoes have been largely protected from interbreeding, or hybridisation, with domestic dogs and are therefore considered to be the some of the purest remaining in Australia.

Ironically, that same isolation is likely to sound the death knell for these animals.

The island’s small size (1840km2) translates to a limited habitat and resources (in particular food) and a potentially non-viable population size.

In addition, the animals face a restrictive, misguided QPWS Dingo Management Strategy, which (among other things) fails to address:

  • genetic viability of the dingoes and their long-term survival.
  • community concerns as to the health and welfare of the dingoes.
  • a lack of community input and involvement.

The island

Fraser Island has been on the World Heritage list since 1992. While it is an environmental icon and a major tourist destination, it is also home to these native Australian dingoes.

The World Heritage listing Convention promotes the protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the natural heritage, fauna and flora of selected sites.

The island’s dingoes were a significant component in this listing.

Also, recent research from across Australia has shown the value of the dingo in maintaining the ecological balance as a top predator.

History

Prior to European settlement, the dingo was integral to the lifestyle of the indigenous community on Fraser Island.

This balance collapsed with the establishment of a timber industry in the 1860s, which has now been replaced by relentless, ever-expanding tourist traffic.

A persecuted species

Fraser Island’s dingoes are subjected to unwarranted culling by the QPWS, and the destruction of suspected “problem” dingoes (as has very recently occurred).

There have been regular witness reports of harassment (hazing) of dingoes encroaching on tourist beaches or around resorts, the annual trapping and tagging of juveniles, and ethically questionable “research”, including electric shock behaviour-change experimentation.

There is also a severe lack of natural food resources. This is highlighted in the postmortem reports of 90 dingoes that died or were culled on the island.

Stomach examinations showed that 37% were surviving on vegetable matter, 30% on fish, 23% on rubbish (plastic bags, foil, meat packaging pads), and 10% had empty stomachs.

Only 12% contained any mammals or reptiles.

A better tomorrow?

Fraser Island has the potential to maintain a resident population of wild dingoes but only if there are immediate changes to the current QPWS’s Dingo Management Strategy under the direction of the Queensland Department of Environment and Resources.

The Strategy must be re-evaluated and reviewed on scientific, genetic, ethical and welfare considerations to ensure that the Fraser Island dingo survives and that there is no continual risk to human life or injury.

This review must be transparent and involve all stakeholders.

If not, there is only one outcome: this population will become extinct.

Read more on this topic: Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf: is the dingo friend or foe?

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