Australia Orders Dingo Cull After Fatal Mauling

BRISBANE, Australia, May 4, 2001 (ENS) - Australian aborigines and environmental groups are seeking an injunction to stop the cull of dingoes on Fraser Island, off the Queensland coast. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie ordered the cull after the animals mauled nine year old Clinton Gage to death on Monday.

Fraser Island's 160 dingoes are considered the purest strain of dingoes in Australia, and are protected by law. The species is the best known wild dog in Australia and is believed to be the ancestor of all dog breeds.

dingo

Inter-breeding has reduced pure bred dingo populations to small areas, such as Fraser Island. (Photos courtesy Dingo Farm Australia)
DNA testing has confirmed that dingoes evolved about 135,000 years ago and may have been the world's first domestic dog.

Despite their protection on Fraser island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) can act to destroy the animals, provided they have the authorization of the chief executive of the Parks and Wildlife Service.

Today, Environment Minister Dean Wells said limited culling, which had already accounted for 12 dingoes by this morning, would continue.

"We do need to ensure we do not make a significant impact on the World Heritage values of Fraser Island, and I have legal advice confirming that the limited cull now being undertaken does not represent a significant impact on these values," said Wells.

"This is an operational practice which has been applied to about 40 dingoes over the last decade, and does not represent a threat to the viability of the species on the Island."

"We can't change the tragedy of Monday but we will do everything we can to ensure this doesn't happen again," Premier Beattie added.

According to Wells, the two dingoes responsible for the fatal attack were young juveniles from last year's litter. Both were described by Dylan Gage, Clinton's seven year old brother who was also mauled in the attack. The dingoes were subsequently killed by park rangers.

Up to 20 dingoes will be culled, possibly more if recommended by a long term risk assessment that has been ordered by Wells.

"Initially, two small teams of rangers will conduct the cull and will operate on separate parts of the island," Beattie said.

"Any dingo that stays in the bush will be safe."

"We have also ordered the strict enforcement of the no feeding laws. These laws have been ignored by some people and that has contributed to the problem we face today."

Since 1995, more than 50 people have been issued infringement notices for feeding dingoes.

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The Fraser Island highway. (Photo courtesy Fraser Island Association)
A lawyer acting for the Ngulungbara people, aborigines who own part of Fraser Island, gave the authorities until noon today to stop the cull. Otherwise, they plan to apply for a legal injunction.

Wells said that the QPWS is not technically obliged to consult with the Ngulungbara.

"As a matter of courtesy, traditional owner representatives have been invited to accompany the park rangers to observe the culling," said Wells.

"We will continue to consult traditional owners as we resolve this dingo problem. I urge the traditional owners to participate in the processes which we have made available.

"It is clear that public safety is at stake, and this government will do everything within its power to protect people visiting Fraser Island while maintaining the World Heritage values of this unique environment."

The Queensland Conservation Council (QCC) and The Wilderness Society also want a moratorium on the cull.

"The Queensland Conservation Council does not believe that culling is the answer to the risk posed by dingoes," said Felicity Wishart of QCC.

"This is a knee jerk response which ignores the draft dingo management strategy being developed by the QPWS in consultation with a range of stakeholders."

Beattie said that throughout the time that the draft management plan has been out for consultation, QPWS officers have been culling dingoes that were potential problems for humans. Up to 40 dingoes have been culled in the past 10 years.

Lyndon Schneiders of the Wilderness Society said the Ministerial Council established to manage the Fraser Island World Heritage area should urgently convene a round table of scientists, locals, tourism representatives and environmental groups to consider proper action.

"It is crucial that the government doesn't simply respond to the outpouring of grief this terribly sad incident has evoked amongst the community," said Schneiders. "Calm heads are needed to ensure that the dingoes, a natural part of the Fraser Island landscape, and one of the drawcards to the island, are not killed indiscriminately.

"This shoot from the hip approach to managing world heritage areas is not acceptable," added Schneiders.

lake

Lake on Fraser Island. (Photo courtesy Environment Australia)
Wishart blamed the tragedy on those who feed dingoes, which encourage the animals to Fraser Island's camp sites.

"Failing to respect that they are wild and keeping away has precipitated bad behavior in the dingoes," said Wishart.

"It is crucial that the bad behavior of humans is urgently curtailed. The penalties for feeding dingoes must be strictly enforced so that lives are not put at risk again."

Beattie has ordered a strict A$500 (US$260) fine for anyone caught feeding dingoes.

Four hours north of Brisbane, Fraser Island is the world's largest sand island at 125 kilometers (78 miles) long and more than 160,000 hectares (395,368 acres) in area. It is home to over 200 species of birds along with a variety of mammals, wallabies, snakes, possums, turtles and flying foxes.