Dingoes

The Northern Territory’s registrar of births, deaths and marriages examined the Chamberlain case in 2012 after an emotional plea from Azaria’s mother to change the death certificate to blame a dingo for the bizarre killing.

When the inquiry was being held, my friend Anita said “The DINGO did it. I hope the Chamberlains get the justice they deserve.”

I commented: “I had been living in Japan for a year (in 1981, when the Chamberlain case first happened) so I had heard nothing about it. The first thing the Aussie taxi driver said to me on the way home from the airport when I arrived home was “do you think Lindy did it?” I was amazed. Firstly, I had never heard of her, and secondly, the taxi driver seemed to think that it was OK for everyone to have an opinion (regardless of not having the full facts). Don’t we have courts of law in order to hear the evidence? Admittedly, it took a long time for the evidence to be heard and interpreted correctly in the Chamberlains’ case.

I am a retired professional dog trainer. As a professional dog trainer I know that domestic dogs have killed about one person per year in Australia for the last 15 or 20 years. In the US there are hundreds of fatal dog attacks. If you find that alarming, look at the figures for how many parents or step-parents murder their children. In Australia, over a four and a half year period, 126 children were victims of homicide. The majority (70%) were killed by their parents or primary carers. Similar patterns have been found in the US and UK. Ask yourself who is the more aggressive animal.

To continue, dingos are wild animals, not domestic dogs, despite their cute appearance, and the fact that some people keep them as pets. They are carnivorous predators. The pet dingos that I have helped to train had the best off-lead recall of any domestic dog I have trained, but most came to sticky ends because of their predation e.g. escaping into a neighbour’s back yard and killing their pet rabbit (which led to the ranger coming and shooting the dingo on the spot). Dingos in the wild will attack prey animals opportunistically. We shouldn’t be surprised at this – it’s how they make a living. But when they encounter a baby or young child, they will seize their opportunity. The boy who was killed on Fraser Island broke a number of rules.

1. There was a sign telling parents not to let their children walk unaccompanied down the path

warning sign on Fraser Island

warning sign on Fraser Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. When the dingo started to stalk the boys, the younger child panicked and ran. This not only separated him from his older brother, making him more vulnerable, but also stimulated the dingo’s instinct to chase and attack. Think of all those nature documentaries about the Masai Mara – lions chasing herds of wildebeest until they can hive off a young animal from the herd, and single it out for attack. It was the same principle on Fraser Island.

3. The advice we dog trainers repeatedly give children being stalked by dogs is to walk with confident body language, but do not run. Staying in the group gives you more protection. Without hearing the evidence given in a court of law, I can say that the suggestion that a dingo took Azaria Chamberlain is entirely plausible. I have published a book called Dogs and Children – a behavioural training guide (2003).”

A similar problem occurred in 2011, when a 3 year old girl was attacked and severely bitten by two dingos when she wandered away from her parents, on a beach on Fraser island, onto some sand dunes. For a report of the  incident, see this link:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/australia/8473123/Girl-3-attacked-by-dingoes-at-Australian-tourist-spot.html

Fraser Island (a detour)

Fraser Island is located just north the Sunshine Coast of Queensland.  I visited it about fifteen years ago, when I was staying with my brother and sister-in-law, who live at Marcus Beach, on the outskirts of Noosa. It has been a World Heritage site since 1992, and is the biggest sand island in the world.

The island has rainforests, eucalyptus woodland, mangrove forests, wallum and peat swamps, sand dunes and coastal heaths. It is home to a small number of mammal species, including dingos, as well as a diverse range of birds, reptiles and amphibians, and the occasional saltwater crocodile. When I was there, we saw a goanna stalk and slowly consume a lizard.

Only four-wheel drive vehicles may travel on the island, due to the tough conditions of the tracks. The drive up the beach, heading towards the island, is spectacular, going along Rainbow Beach, which has beautiful coloured cliffs of red, orange and cream sediments.

Fraser Island has been inhabited by humans for as much as 5,000 years. It became known as Fraser Island due to the stories of  Eliza Fraser, the wife of a ship’s captain who survived a shipwreck and supposedly lived with aborigial inhabitants of the island.

Domestic dogs not permitted on the island, because it has the most genetically pure dingo population in Australia.

Getting back to the Chamberlain case

Anita said: “I studied (the Chamberlain) case in legal studies and conviction was on bad forensic evidence. The case was very political for the reasons Kaye has outlined about animal behaviour, because the rangers had been attempting to put the dangers of dingos near camping grounds on the agenda when this occurred and the Northern Territory Government did not want this known. Kaye, your books are great and I think they ought to be formatted for e-publishing as they are on the mark. Dingoes are not the only dogs that cause harm to children as is made clear in the book Kaye wrote, which I have read and which accords with what my family taught us about dogs – we had German Shepherds. I once met a dingo in an urban setting and house sat for a while and found that it was an extraordinary animal-no barking, so intelligent and quiet and aloof. It was quite an experience they are so different from ordinary dogs, magnificent and so loyal.”

I commented: “Anita, thank you for your kind words about my books. I would be happy to put what I have online, but I had a disaster with losing my hard drive and (ashamed to say) not everything was backed up. I am looking at what I can retrieve.

Canis lupus dingo Fraser Island Queensland, Au...

Canis lupus dingo Fraser Island Queensland, Australia Sam Fraser-Smith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the question of rangers and the danger of dingos in national parks – when I was at Fraser Island over ten years ago, I had a conversation with one of the rangers. He said some German tourists had been feeding the dingoes around the area where the toilets, information centre and picnic grounds are. Feeding is strictly forbidden, but people don’t understand the implications, and they do it anyway. Having been fed, they got accustomed to it and expected it. When the next group of tourists came along and didn’t feed them, they got aggressive and started harassing people. Since the boy was killed, the rangers try to keep the dingos in the northern half of the island, which is a wilderness, and out of the southern half, where the tourist trails are.”

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