Nine-year-old is victim of first deadly dingo attack in 21 years

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2001:

FRASER ISLAND, Queensland, Australia–Out for an early morning stroll near where their family had camped overnight on Fraser Island, off the Queensland coast, brothers Dylan and Clinton Gage, 7 and 9, along with an unidentified seven-year-old friend, found themselves being stalked by a male and female dingo. First they tried to walk back to the Waddy Point campsite, about half a kilometre away. As the dingos became bolder, they ran for their lives. Clinton fell and was fatally mauled, in the first lethal dingo attack on a human since the death of nine-week-old Azaria Chamberlain at Ayer’s Rock in August 1980.

The unidentified seven-year-old fetched the Gage boys’ father, Ross Gage, who found Clinton’s body, heard a scream, and turned to see a dingo leaping on Dylan. As Ross Gage fought that dingo off, the other returned to savage Clinton’s head. Both dingos were shot nearby later in the day. The male was believed to have been involved in earlier stalking incidents. Apparently unknown to the Gage family, they camped in the same area where David Eason, 46, of London, England, vanished without a trace on March 29.

The estimated 160-200 dingos on Fraser Island have reportedly stalked humans –usually children–at least 400 times in the past six years, and have attacked humans 20 times. Between 30 and 40 dingos have been killed after such incidents. In the most serious previous attacks, two dingos mauled Andrew Bartram, 5, in 1997; a dingo dragged 13-month-old Kasey Rowles about five feet in 1998; and also in 1998, British visitor Sarah Challands, 25, was bitten 14 times.

Dingos culled

Queensland prime minister Peter Beattie on May 1 ordered the killing of any dingos found near camp sites. “They will be killed humanely, but they will be killed,” Beattie told media.

The Beattie government on April 17 reportedly ordered airdrops of poisoned bait to suppress an alleged population explosion among dingos and other wild canines in western Queensland. As dingos, other Australian wild dogs, and feral foxes all mainly hunt rabbits, and produce larger litters only in response to greater food availability, rapid growth in their numbers could reflect a decline in the effectiveness of rabbit calicivirus, the introduced disease which has been the main brake on rabbit population growth since 1996.

Experts agreed that the dingo population of Fraser Island is abnormally high because of human feeding. A recent study of dingo scats on the island found that about 47% included traces of human food. The Queensland environment ministry can fine people who feed dingos about $960 U.S. per offense, but the only person ever cited was a former environment ministry staffer.

Despite the apparently unanimity about why the Fraser Island dingos have become so numerous and aggressive, experts disagreed over what to do about the attacks. Australian Dingo Conservation Association representative Lyn Shelling-Watson told Greg Roberts of the Melbourne Age that feeding stations for dingos should be set up away from tourist areas, the food should be air-dropped to keep the dingos from associating food with humans, and all campgrounds should be enclosed by electric fence.

Dingo breeder Bruce Jacobs, of Victoria state, argued that adult dingos should be relocated during the mating season. “Then you gather up all the youngesters and put them in a big interpretive center where they are handled right from three or four weeks old, they get an imprint, and become friendly and are fed,” Jacobs insisted in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Dingo attacks on humans are so rare on the mainland that when Azaria Chamber-lain’s mother Lindy insisted she had seen a dingo run out of her tent carrying the child, she was widely disbelieved. Aboriginal trackers found much of the child’s clothing about four miles away, but Lindy Chamberlain was convicted of murdering Azaria, drew a life sentence at hard labor, and served nearly three years before the February 1986 discovery of the last piece of clothing buried near a dingo’s lair convinced police that she had told the truth. Her husband, a Seventh Day Adventist Minister, was convicted as an accessory. Later divorced, they were pardoned and paid compensation in May 1987. The case inspired the 1988 Meryl Streep film A Cry In The Dark.

More Down Under

Gunmen hired by the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens in early April began shooting some of the estimated 19,000 rare greyheaded flying foxes who have made their largest known colony in Victoria state within the Gardens’ Fern Gully. The foxes’ guano is allegedly killing the Fern Gully vegetation, including specimens of endangered plants. Nearly two weeks after nightly bat shoots began, however, Australian environment minister Robert Hill, Australian Museum director Mike Archer, Deakin University wildlife management lecturer Peter Brown, and flora and fauna manager Robert Begg of the Victoria state Department of Natural Resources and the Environment were reportedly still seeking official protection of the flying foxes as a threatened species and hoping that a sanctuary situation could be found for them.

Six months of experimentation with the use of contraceptives for kangaroo population control at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, near Canberra, indicate a successful alternative to lethal culling, the Melbourne Age reported on April 27.

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