Fraser Island Dingos
  |  First Published: January 2010

Recently, while driving along the beach just south of Teewah, I came across a swamp wallaby joey in the surf. This fellow certainly isn't the first wallaby or kangaroo I've seen in the surf but he was definitely the youngest. As I pulled up the Hi-Lux nearby to take a couple of pics and inspected the dunes for wild dogs, I was reminded of small wallabies that used to inhabit the Sandy Cape region and which I had seen often in the 70s and 80s there. I haven't seen one of those wallabies since about 1986 and inquiries to QPWS and elsewhere about these wallabies drew an absolute blank – nobody had seen or heard of them at all – ever.

I mostly saw them in the surf between Browns Rocks and Sandy Cape with a pack of dingos on the beach waiting for them to become exhausted and easy prey. But every now and then we would see them around camp and a lovely looking wallaby they were. And 'were' seems to be the operative word and dingos would be responsible for their extinction if this is indeed the case.

It's not difficult to assess how this came about – tourism to Fraser increased in the 70s and 80s when feeding dingos was all the rage and fish offal was everywhere. Having a steady supply of food through winter and spring each year caused the dingos to breed up. Following the Christmas school holidays each year when the tourists had all gone home and taken their fishing rods and bbq scraps with them, the increased dingo numbers suddenly found themselves short of food with wallabies the main natural prey to gang up on. And that's when I would usually see wallabies in the surf – February and March.

QPWS most definitely wanted to reduce the numbers of dingos on the island so that such predation pressures wouldn't be brought to bare on the native island fauna. However a backlash from the general public, fueled by the media has always prevented QPWS from culling to the level they would have liked and the wallabies bore the brunt but were never considered in any of the debates.

Protecting the dingo seems to be of a higher priority to some who obviously don't recognise how ecosystems function and how resilient the dingo population is. And it is not just wallabies that dingos feed on.

QPWS have found themselves in an extraordinarily difficult situation over dingos on Fraser. Their efforts however in trying to have dingos lose their now instinctive association with humans being a source of food is certain to fail. And with campers being fined all over the island for 'dingo offences', this strategy needs to be exposed as the laughable one that it is.

Each tailor season, thousands of anglers head to Fraser for the annual slaughter armed with boxes and boxes of pilchards. When fishing, it is common for an angler to retrieve his/her line with a portion of pilchard still on the hooks. The angler always throws this portion into the swash to replace with a fresh pilchard. With thousands of anglers and around the clock fishing, the number of pilchard portions adds up to tens of thousands washing up on the water's edge and is recognised by the dingos as a ready source of food.

Added to this is the cleaning and filleting of fish on the beach and in camping areas with offal either left on the sand, thrown in the surf, buried too shallow or even to 500mm which the dingos are perfectly capable of digging up. And we've all seen the tailor frames on the beach being driven over by all and sundry and I've witnessed rangers driving directly over frames on two occasions. The same rangers that then drive into a camp site and fine campers for having an 'unlocked' esky in a zipped up tent with nothing other than soft drink cans in it while a dingo licks the fish blood off their tyres.

The options are clear for QPWS on how to tackle this issue. Either prevent ALL human disposal of food that the dingos can eat or cull the dingos to a level that is appropriate for the ecosystems on the island and is sustainable for the dingos and their natural prey.

It would seem impossible for dingos to lose their association with humans and food whilst the island is invaded by an increasing number of humans who can't be anything other than human and do what their not supposed to. And I can't envisage the banning of pilchards on the island or multiple sites for fish offal disposal being created and actually used by 100% of anglers. So the first option doesn't seem worth pursuing. Therefore the 2nd option is the only one available, although simply reducing dingo numbers on its own goes only part of the way to returning some sort of balance to the equasion.

A reduced number of rangers on the island brought about by efficiencies in campground structure and the issuing and checking of permits is out of balance with the increasing tourist population and particularly international tourists. Again the options are clear for QPWS – either increase ranger numbers, or preferably, cap tourist numbers on the island at any one time.

To allow tourist numbers to increase exponentially seems absurd in a World Heritage area of such fragility. Thousands and thousands of 4wds all carrying dingo food being driven by inexperienced drivers on a beach exposed to the Pacific Ocean that protects the world heritage values that caused it to be listed and with vehicle accidents on the increase and tailor numbers on the decrease. Just cap the numbers as is being done in Cooloola in a sense

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