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Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
Divisions over dingo cull
dingo
The dingo cull has sparked a divided reaction
Phil Mercer gauges reaction to the slaughter of wild dingoes, ordered after a boy was mauled to death on Australia's Fraser Island.

The image of dingoes being shot at point-blank range has provoked a passionate, yet divided, debate across the island.

John Sinclair from the Fraser Island Defenders Organisation (Fido) said the cull should never have been approved. "I don't like using the term cull," he said. "I think it was more like a massacre."

But Eric Parrups from the Fraser Island Association said the government's actions have prevented damage to the area's multi-million dollar tourism industry.

Fraser Island location map
"I don't believe we could have had people continuing to visit the island if there wasn't a limited cull," he said.

More than 15% of the estimated dingo population of 200 has been destroyed so far.

The Queensland State Government says aggressive animals will be hunted down in the future and shot if they continue to menace campsites.

Popular island

Fraser Island is the world's largest sand island and lies at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef off Hervey Bay in southern Queensland.

It also has rainforests and hundreds of miles of untainted beaches.

The dingoes were taken to Fraser Island by the aborigines more than 3,500 years ago and are one of the island's most popular attractions.

Now the wild dogs that have helped the island cement its position as a premier holiday destination for hundreds of thousands of tourists are providing its greatest dilemma.

Dingo facts
Found throughout Australia, except Tasmania

Usually live singly, in pairs or small family groups

Weigh 10 - 20 kg

Most common colour is ginger with white chest and paws

After weaning, puppies are fed regurgitated food until old enough to hunt

Predominantly carnivorous, but will eat a wide variety of foods including plants and insects.

Do not bark, but can howl

Identified by typical skull shape and annual breeding cycle
The death of nine-year-old Clinton Gage has shown that decisive action is needed to eradicate the rogue dingo problem. But does a solution to this wildlife crisis demand the continued destruction of Fraser's wild dog population?

Many of the local residents, indigenous groups and conservationists I met during my visit stood united against the cull.

Nigel Fremantle has lived on the island for more than 25 years. Nigel was my guide for the day and tried to explain why he thought the cull was a misguided approach to the dingo problem.

The reason, he told me, was that the government's strategy of shooting aggressive animals straying near the campsites only encouraged other dingoes to come in from the bush to replace them.

"They take dingoes out of an area and as soon as they do other dingoes move in," he said. "I've seen dogs that have moved into some of the townships that I haven't seen for years."

Dingo
Dingoes on Fraser Island used to feed at the rubbish tips
As we drove along the beach on the eastern side of the island, we spotted a young male approaching a group of fishermen. Hunger has blunted much of the fear they may have once had of humans. The big problem is a lack of food. The dingoes are natural scavengers but many are starving.

Tuppy Gillick is an environmentalist who told me the old rubbish dumps used by the resorts to discard food scraps were closed a decade ago. They provided the wild dogs with enough to eat to keep them away from people.

Little common ground

Ms Gillick wants remote feeding stations to be set up to prevent further attacks.

"The dingoes that are left are still starving and there needs to be a feeding programme to fix the problem," she said.

"Just killing the dingoes is not going to make the other dingoes less hungry."

Opposition to the cull may be widespread. There is, however, little common ground on what to do to ensure the long-term coexistence of man and wild dog.


We would hate to think that this could be allowed to happen to anybody else

Bereaved father Ross Gage
Some locals say the dingoes should be rounded up and made to live in a reservation or a zoo on the island. Others believe they should be moved to another remote part of Australia.

The aboriginal community has a different solution. It wants to fence off every camp site, a task that would take more than six months.

Separation

The indigenous people are the traditional owners of this land and have failed in the courts to stop the cull.

Aboriginal leader John Dalungdalee Jones said physically separating the animals from the visitors was the way forward. "We're asserting our property rights. We're protecting the tourists and we're protecting the dingoes," he said.

Those charged with finding an answer to the problem may remember the sentiments of Clinton Gage's father, Ross: "There's just not enough words to describe the pain and the grief that we have right now in losing such a wonderful little boy and we would hate to think that this could be allowed to happen to anybody else."

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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
05 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia: Deadly paradise
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