Dingoes are one of the many icons of K’gari-Fraser Island – and one that attracts a fair amount of debate and interest. So, what are the facts about the island’s dingoes?
Before European settlers came to K’gari, two types of dingoes were known to the Butchulla traditional owners. One was wat’dha (the camp dingo), and the other was wongari (the wild dingo). All K’gari’s dingoes are now considered to be wongari – wild and free.
The dingo (wongari) Canis lupus dingo is protected in Queensland national parks as a native species. QPWS has a legal responsibility to conserve dingoes on K’gari, even though the dingo is a declared pest outside of these areas.
Wildlife authorities have suggested that K’gari dingoes may be the purest strain of dingo on the eastern Australian seaboard (and perhaps Australia) as they have not crossbred with domestic or feral dogs to the same extent as most mainland populations. Therefore, their conservation is important.
Dingoes are a highly evolved apex predator on K’gari, meaning like the sea eagles and sharks, they prey on other animals. Survival on an island means you need to adapt, so K’gari’s dingoes are omnivores relying on a mixture of foods including marsupials, rodents, reptiles, berries and other flora, and the remains of stranded marine animals washed up on the beach. Medium-sized mammals (such as bandicoots) and fish were the most common food items detected in dingo scat records.
Being a highly intelligent animal, some dingoes have also adapted to another food source/supplier on the island – us!
Fishers, beach campers and tourists can leave behind a smorgasbord of food items on K’gari’s beaches including fish frames and barbecue leftovers, and dingoes then dig these up. Sadly, some visitors to K’gari don’t appreciate the dingo’s naturally slim frame, and by feeding dingoes have habituated some individual animals to expect food. These dingoes may then exhibit aggression if food is not available on the next occasion they approach a tourist.
Negative interactions are carefully monitored on the island. If a dingo is considered too significant a risk, (remembering the death of nine-year-old Clinton Gage in 2001, and the more recent attack on the toddler who was pulled from a camper trailer in 2019) then managers are forced to act. Euthanasia being the last resort for a dangerous animal.
In 2020, (with the island closed for a significant period and less visitation) dingoes reverted to their natural food sources. The result – which is noteworthy – no dingoes were euthanised for high-risk behaviour or starvation.
Sadly, after just returning from a trip to K’gari myself, this trend hasn’t continued with numerous dingoes back out scavenging around popular tourist hot spots on the island like Waddy Point and Eli Creek.
So, what are the key things you can do to help keep yourself and K’gari’s dingoes (wongari) safe?
- Never feed a dingo (not even inadvertently)! Feeding, attracting or intentionally disturbing a dingo attracts a hefty fine up to a maximum of $10,676. If you have to bury food scraps, make sure that they are >50cm deep (and don’t do it while a dingo is watching). Better still, bag your scraps, secure them, and take them home with you or dispose of them in a designated bin.
- When visiting lakes, take no food. Never take food or drinks (except water) to lake shores and use the fenced picnic areas provided.
- If camping outside a dingo-fenced area, keep your campsite clean and tidy with any food securely stored in a locked box (not your tent!).
- Always stay very close to children. Children forget that they are at risk, and may run during play attracting the attention of dingoes. Treat a dingo as you would a busy road and teach your children to be dingo-safe.
- Slow down for wildlife including dingoes and shorebirds. Dingoes are unpredictable. Unfortunately, some people have accidentally or deliberately hit dingoes with their vehicles.
Ultimately, we are all responsible for K’gari’s dingoes (wongari). If you see someone at risk or doing the wrong thing, get a photo, take down some details like the location, date, time and vehicle registration and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most of all – help keep dingoes (wongari) safe, remember, K’gari is their place.
Article compiled and contributed by Sue Sargent, FINIA