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The dingoes on K'gari face severe consequences, while others argue that humans are the true threat.
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The dingoes on K’gari face severe consequences, while others argue that humans are the true threat.

Prior to laying to rest one of the dingoes of Fraser Island, a smoking ritual was performed. The act of execution is regarded as a somber event.

That’s because they are so significant in Aboriginal culture that the animals, also known as dingoes, are considered part of the family.

Darren Blake, who serves as fire coordinator for the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation, has participated in the ethical elimination of several animals over the course of his 10+ years as a K’gari ranger. He describes it as a somber event.

“We only perform a smoking ceremony in cases where human intervention is involved,” stated Blake.

“When the person ascends to Sky Country, we engage in a smoking ritual to help guide their spirit and promote a sense of calmness and peace.”

If we do not take action, they will remain wandering as spirits and may enter another wongari.

Blake mentioned that they frequently communicate with the animal to mentally prepare them for their destination and to reassure them that it is not their fault.

“They are embedded in our songs and stories, serving as our totem. The Butchulla people hold them in high regard.”

On Tuesday, the authorities on K’gari, also known as Fraser Island, killed a wongari for the fourth time in the last six months. These wongari had all attacked visitors to one of Queensland’s beloved natural destinations, located approximately six hours north of Brisbane.

Approximately 200 wongari reside on K’gari and they are considered to be some of the most genetically unadulterated dingoes globally. All parties involved in the island’s management strive to prevent harm to these animals.

From 2020 to 2023, the state government’s implementation of a new safety and management strategy resulted in no animals being euthanized.

However, despite efforts to increase safety measures, frequent dingo attacks still occur on K’gari. Environmental organizations and the local Aboriginal corporation believe a new approach is needed: limiting the number of people on the island.

A dingo on a beach

Peter Shooter, former leader of the Fraser Island Defenders Organisation and a member of the K’gari world heritage advisory committee, expressed concern that the loss of even a small number of dingoes would impact the limited genetic diversity on the remote island.

According to a genetic study conducted by Southern Cross and Johannesburg universities, the lack of genetic diversity may pose a potential risk to the population.

Although there is currently no immediate danger, reducing the population of wongari on K’gari to such small numbers is always a long-term risk.

Is the issue caused by individuals?

According to a representative from the environmental department in Queensland, the most recent dingo that was killed had been involved in three separate attacks on two children and a man. These incidents all took place in the Hook Point barge landing area, which is known to be one of the busiest areas on the island.

According to them, euthanasia was considered as a final option, but they decided to euthanize the dingo due to its aggressive behavior. The Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation, who are the rightful owners of the island, do not approve of euthanasia.

This is not a recent occurrence. The department has reported six incidents involving dingoes on K’gari since December 10th, with half of them involving children.

However, the individuals who are seen as the true threat on K’gari are the ones who value the environment.

In 2024, the Rangers have given out two penalties for leaving food accessible to dingoes. This is considered a violation as feeding is a major contributor to “habituation”. This is when an animal, even one that is naturally timid like a wongari, becomes accustomed to being around humans.

The act of providing food poses a unique issue as it teaches the animals to view humans as a source of easy sustenance instead of a danger. According to Shooter, since dingoes do not have any natural enemies, humans are the primary threat to their survival.

The answer: preventing individuals from interacting with animals.

The government has implemented various measures such as fencing off human areas, posting signs about the dangers of habituation for both humans and animals, and increasing patrols in an effort to address the issue.

However, Shooter has observed a consistent decline in individuals’ behavior following the Covid pandemic.

According to him, tour groups typically exhibit good behavior, but individual travelers may completely disregard the rules.

“He stated that he enjoys taking selfies and trying to get as close to the animals as possible. He finds them adorable, especially the smaller ones, and it’s natural for humans to want to cuddle and interact with them, similar to how we do with our own pets.”

“These creatures are not suitable as pets. It would not be wise to attempt to cuddle a lion cub in its natural habitat.”

A dingo watches on as cars drive along a beach on K’gari

Shooter and the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation, along with other entities, advocate for increased regulations on tourists.

This could potentially involve implementing a system to prohibit the most disruptive people from being on the island, or setting limits on the number of people allowed during busy times, similar to the restrictions in place at Lord Howe Island, Antarctica, and Machu Picchu.

John Green, a project coordinator at the Aboriginal corporation, has been employed as a ranger on K’gari for over ten years.

He suggests limiting the numbers during peak periods as a way to reduce the resources needed for education and opportunities.

“It becomes increasingly difficult to be present in every location due to the large quantity.”

According to him, the cap could be counterbalanced by increasing the number of visitors during off-peak times, dispersing tourists throughout the less busy months instead of having them concentrated during school breaks.

These wongaris are unable to succeed due to the overwhelming amount of people during peak times.

The shooter acknowledges that not everyone may agree with the idea.

The Fraser Coast area receives over 500,000 visitors annually, primarily from within the country, with a significant portion headed to K’gari. This is a significant and vital sector.

Shooters states that the island’s “social fabric” has shifted due to the influx of visitors.

Shooter states that they are responsible for the change. It is unjust to believe that the appropriate response is to kill the animals. This is completely unacceptable.

The quick fix is increased funds.

The department announced that it will be allocating an extra $2 million this year, as well as an additional $3 million each year, to increase safety messaging and hire 13 new positions specifically for the conservation and management of dingoes.

The Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation is seeking to employ up to four wongari rangers dedicated to managing the animals, in addition to the current seven or eight rangers.

Green says their role would be as much about managing people as the environment – keeping an eye on both groups, which is easier if there are fewer people.

“Our goal is to target those who are becoming habituated and provide them with an opportunity to avoid interacting with visitors,” he states.

The shooter believes that humans are the root of the problem, even though it is the animals who suffer the most. He predicts that there will be an increase in smoking ceremonies as more wongari are put to sleep.

The issue will not resolve itself. It can only be resolved through a change in human actions.

Also contributed by Australian Associated Press.

Source: theguardian.com