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Fraser Island dingo fences newly built around beachfront camp sites aim to stop attacks

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 27/06/2020 By Kerrin Binnie and Jessica Rendall
a herd of cattle walking across a beach next to the water: A dingo pack roams the beach north of Eurong. (Supplied: Andrew Richter) © Provided by ABC News A dingo pack roams the beach north of Eurong. (Supplied: Andrew Richter)

Heading to Fraser Island these school holidays? There are some changes on the island aimed at better protecting people from dingoes.

Four wire mesh fences are being built on Fraser Island beachfront camp sites to help stop dingo attacks.

It is the first time the camping areas on the beach have been fenced.

Why the fences?

Camping on Fraser's eastern beachfront is split into zones in open, undeveloped areas with no facilities.

Years of people feeding dingoes on K'Gari — the Indigenous name for the Island — has taught them to associate food with humans, and some come into camps.

University of Southern Queensland (USQ) wildlife researcher Dr Benjamin Allen said while dingoes have familiarised themselves with people over the years, the coronavirus shutdown had meant the animals were more used to life without people on the island.

"With the COVID lockdowns there hasn't been that many people on the island at all," Dr Allen said.

"These holidays are going to be a pretty big shock to them [dingoes] — a rude awakening again — as they get back into the swing of people."

Dr Allen said dingoes were curious animals that were comfortable in their habitat.

As a result, they might venture close to groups of people to see what was happening and to look for food.

"They may look like your dog, but they don't act like your dog, so try to appreciate them from a distance," Dr Allen said.

"Whatever you do, do not feed them and don't leave food out for them."

There are on-the-spot fines of $2,088 with a maximum penalty of $10,444 for feeding or disturbing dingoes.

The Queensland Government promised to put up a fence after a 14-month-old boy was dragged from a camper trailer by two dingoes in the One Tree Rocks camping area early last year.

Queensland's Department of Environment and Science said the project cost $500,000 and the fenced camping areas were designed "to reduce the incidence of negative interactions between wongari [the Butchulla word for dingo] and visitors".

Dr Allen said the fences were a good solution to minimise dingo interactions and did not restrict the animals in their natural habitat.

"The amount of area that's fenced off to dingoes is negligible — it's really, really tiny," he said.

"The erection of fences hasn't changed dingo behaviour all that much, but it has kept people safe."

Dr Allen said the Government had also committed to more research on the island, launching studies into dingo behaviour.

"The Queensland Government has invested quite substantially in learning more about dingoes on the island and how to look after them, conserve them and manage them," he said.

As part of the research, some dingoes on the island had ear tags and GPS collars that allowed researchers to track dingoes and learn more about their movements on the island.

Researchers are also studying their diet and genetic health.

"We probably know more about Fraser Island dingoes then we do about any other dingo population in the country," Dr Allen said.

When do the fenced areas open?

Four camping areas are getting fenced.

The fenced areas at the Wongai and Cornwells beachfront camp sites are finished and will open for the school holidays.

Construction of the other two beachfront camping areas, One Tree Rock and Eli, are expected to be finished at the end of the month.

The sites will have to be booked and there is already growing demand.

Fraser Coast Tourism and Events general manager Martin Simons said the fences had encouraged more families to visit the island.

"We're getting very solid bookings for the holiday period," Mr Simons said.

"Some of the resorts and campgrounds on the island are more heavily booked in June and July this year than they were in June and July last year.

"I also know some private camps have 95 per cent occupancy for September school holidays."

He said the fences did not take away from the experience of camping in the wild.

"They're strategically placed so you still get the full immersion," Mr Simons said.

He said people could "have a wilderness experience whilst still being safe".

Townships like Eurong, Happy Valley, Cathedral Beach and Kingfisher Bay, plus Dundubarra and Waddy Point campgrounds are all fenced.

Can I still camp outside the fence?

Yes. There are plenty of other zones without fences, but the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service has recommended if you have children up to 14 years old that you consider camping behind the wire.

Cheryl Bryant from Save Fraser Island Dingoes said small children were particularly vulnerable to dingo interactions because of their size.

"We want parents who are camping with children to please keep them close — don't take your eye off small children," Ms Bryant said.

"With all the people going over to the island, the chances are there will be some kind of interaction with the visitors, and if there is a negative interaction then the dingo will probably pay the price."

She urged people to follow the rules so both the native dingo population and visiting humans could enjoy the island.

What should I do if I spot a dingo?

Dr Allen said the sighting of tagged and collared dingoes was extremely useful to researchers.

"If you spot a collared or tagged dingo, keep your distance and remain calm, but let park rangers know of the sighting," he said.

"There is also information readily available on the island in regard to dingoes.

"We want people to be as educated as possible on dingo behaviour before visiting the island."

If you feel threatened by a dingo:

  • Stand up to your full height
  • Face the dingo
  • Fold your arms and keep eye contact
  • Calmly back away
  • If with other people, stand back-to-back
  • Confidently call for help
  • Do not run or wave your arms

Gallery: 12 islands around the world overrun by animals (Photos)

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