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Saturday, 5 May, 2001, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Australia: Deadly paradise

By News Online's Tom Housden

For the tourist or traveller looking for untamed wilderness and spectacular scenery, Australia remains one of the world's premier destinations.

However as visitor numbers rise, the authorities are facing an increasing dilemma of how to protect people from the many exotic, yet dangerous creatures which form an intrinsic part of the country's appeal.

The mauling to death of nine-year-old Clinton Gage by dingoes last week on Queensland's Fraser Island, while an extremely rare event, has added new urgency to the debate.

Funnel Web spider
Unwanted intruder: the Funnel Web spider
Nine of the world's 10 most poisonous snakes are Australian, and the world's deadliest spider, the Sydney Funnel Web, is often shaken out of shoes in suburban homes.

In the north of the country, saltwater crocodiles which can reportedly grow up to seven metres (22 feet) in length, lurk in creeks and pools and have been known to attack humans.

Northern beaches are closed for half the year because jellyfish whose stings can kill children drift close to the shore, and three of the 10 fatal shark attacks worldwide last year were in Australian waters.

Part of the attraction

"It is not only about dingoes, it is about crocodiles and sharks ... dangers exist here just as they do in other parts of the world," said John Morse, managing director of the state-funded Australian Tourist Commission

Shark
Sharks killed three people off Australian beaches last year
"People need to be aware of that, but God help us ... [if] we sterilise the country so much that people don't want to come here.

According to the Australian Tourist Commission, 1.3 million foreign visitors arrived in Australia in the first quarter of 2001, generating $141m in revenue, with Queensland one of the top destinations.

Since last week's attack, the spotlight has fallen on Fraser Island, where the opportunity to see dingoes up close draws over 300,000 visitors each year.

Fraser Island location map
About 160 dingoes roam the world heritage-listed island, a wilderness of sand dunes dotted with stands of eucalyptus trees and subtropical rain forest.

"Taking the dingoes out of Fraser Island is equivalent to taking all the wildebeest out of the Serengeti or all of the lions out of (South Africa's) Kruger National Park," said John Sinclair, a conservationist and member of the Fraser Island Defenders' Group.

Minimal risk

After this week's attack, park rangers began a cull of dingoes found close to places where they could come into contact with humans.

Dingo
Dingoes on Fraser Island have become increasingly fearless
Queensland state authorities moved swiftly to reassure tourists they were doing all they could to protect visitors.

The risk of animal attacks is relatively small - last week's attack was only the second recorded fatal mauling by a dingo - compared with other far greater dangers such as drowning.

But the effort to protect tourism has angered conservationists who say tourists eager for a snapshot with a dingo often get too close to the animals or try to tempt them with food.

This, they say, has caused the dingoes to lose their natural fear of humans.

Attacks 'inevitable'

"You can't have 300,000 tourists a year and not expect attacks and bites," says Bruce Jacobs, director of the National Dingo Association.

Queensland Conservation Council coordinator Felicity Wishart called for an end to the cull until dingo experts found the best way to handle the problem.

"We don't believe this is the solution, and we need calm heads," she said.

"The situation is tragic, but we have to keep in mind that it has arisen because people are feeding the dingoes," she added.

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See also:

05 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Britons attacked by dingo
03 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Aborigines fight dingo cull
02 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Dingo cull begins at beauty spot
30 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Dingoes and man: Uneasy coexistence
30 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Dingoes kill boy at tourist spot
29 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australia slammed over Aborigine rights
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