Ten years ago, and nearly two decades after the infamous Lindy Chamberlain case, a boy of nine was killed by two dingoes on an island in Queensland – grim proof that Australia's native dogs do attack children.As if any doubt really existed…
The Queensland government took drastic steps to protect visitors, culling dozens of animals on Fraser and fencing off resorts and camping grounds.And has that helped?
Well, yes and no:
Now critics say the clampdown has gone too far and that Fraser Island's dingoes, accustomed to scavenging in rubbish tips, are dying of starvation.I can’t help but feel that this is a self-limiting problem.
If the island can’t support the current number of dingoes, then allowing the die-off might be in the species’ best interest.
Some conservationists are even warning that the animals could go the way of the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, which was hunted into oblivion in the 1930s after being blamed for livestock deaths.Which is just ridiculous. This isn’t the only population of dingoes, though it is the only ‘genetically pure’ one:
Banished from populated areas, many of Fraser's 200-plus dingoes are starving, their advocates say. They also believe the introduction of ear tagging has made the dogs less effective hunters, while the practice of "hazing" them – firing clay pellets to move them off beaches – causes injuries and stress. Ian Gunn, a veterinarian at Monash University in Melbourne, says: "When you see the condition of these animals... if I owned them, I would be prosecuted for animal cruelty. If this continues, the dingoes on the island will become extinct."Yes, but you don’t own them, do you? They are wild animals, and we don’t (usually) interfere with their health and well-being.
Critics of the separation of humans and dogs on Fraser – who include Bob Irwin, father of the late "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin – point to the dingoes' co-existence in the past with the indigenous Butchulla people. But Mr Harper says the island's 350,000 annual visitors cannot be expected to know how to interact with them safely.Quite. We’re talking about townies, here. The sort of idiots that feed bears in Yosemite, or get too close to female moose with calves in Canada.
Both sides of the debate brandish photographs showing, variously, healthy looking or emaciated dingoes. Karin Kilpatrick, secretary of Save Fraser Island Dingoes, says the removal from the island of wild horses known as "brumbies" – previously a food source for the dogs – "created a hunger situation". That, and a sharp increase in tourism, led to problems never before experienced, Ms Kilpatrick says.
"Tour operators say they are seeing very few, and those that they see are lacklustre in their fur and they look depressed," she says. "Some have diarrhoea or are limping – we believe that's because they are having to travel long distances to find food."Then cull the weak ones. In the absence of a natural predator, and the unwillingness to allow them to slowly starve, that’s all you can do.