Safety around dingoes all down to humans, says CQU expert

14 August 2023
A man with a dark beard and grey cap wears a black hoodie.
CQUniversity psychology academic and dingo behaviour expert Dr Bradley Smith 

Recent dingo attacks at popular tourist spots in Queensland and Western Australia has seen some of the nation's most vulnerable native animals destroyed, but CQU dingo behaviour expert Dr Bradley Smith warns that effective management strategies must look at changing human behaviour rather than dingo behaviour. 

While calls for dingo culls make international headlines, the Adelaide-based researcher wants better awareness of dingo habits, and humans to adapt to them.

“What is most upsetting to me as a dingo behaviourist and conservationist is that animals are killed because of the actions of people,” Dr Smith said. 

“We blame the dingoes for being dingoes, and none of the responsibility falls onto us.”

Sharing his insights with news outlets internationally, Dr Smith said calls for a cull of dingoes in attack locations fail to consider research findings. 

“Research and case studies, including on K’gari [formerly Fraser Island] itself, show that culling does not solve any perceived problem,” he said. 

“Any reduced risk is only short-term – and while that might be favourable for governments and managers who experience pressure to remove problem animals, this action does not solve the underlying cause of the problem. 

“Another dingo will take its place and problems will rise again – it’s a cyclical process.”

In fact, Dr Smith said “Culling dingoes [the killing of healthy individuals] actually results in a disruption to the pack structure and dynamics, and results in continual instability and unpredictability. 

“We know the dingo population on K’gari is small, between 100-200 dingoes, and this population is also vulnerable, particularly to disease and other environmental events that could severely impact them. 

Listen to Dr Bradley Smith on The Briefing here, What to do when you come face to face with a dingo.

“Culling is one such action that reduces population viability of the dingoes, and thus should be avoided where at all possible.”

Dr Smith said dingo research has informed a long list of strategies for safety around the animals, including never feeding dingoes, either directly or by leaving scraps and food lying around, and being more aware at dingo hunting times (early evening and night) and breeding times (between March and June). 

“Generally dingoes do not care much about people, until they see humans as a source of easy food,” he said. 

“Although fines are in place for feeding dingoes, this issue continues – and people need to realise that if you feed a dingo it may not be a problem to you, but it will be to others later, and you are essentially signing a death notice for that animal.”

Listen to Dr Bradley Smith on ABC Sunday Extra here

Ultimately, managing people is more effective than managing a wild animal, Dr Smith said. 

“And in the case of K’gari, most incidents that occur are due to the visitors not following the guidelines given to them by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) management,” he explained. 

In July, an incident on K’gari saw a woman hospitalised after being bitten 40 times, while reportedly going for a run. The animal involved was later put down by QPWS.

“The advice on the K’gari website, and given to all visitors, clearly states: ‘Walk in groups’, and ‘Do not run, as running or jogging can trigger a negative dingo interaction’,” Dr Smith said.

“Because dingoes are quite small – only slightly above knee height, and with a similar look to a dog – people do not have a natural fear of dingoes as they perhaps should. 

“You don’t go to the Rocky Mountains in the United States, or on safari in Africa, and take no precautions against the wildlife. 

“Yet on places such as K’gari, people let their kids wander around, and try and get close to the dingoes, and do not pay them the respect they need to.

“We need to focus on co-existing with dingoes, and ensuring that when we visit places such as K’gari where dingoes are a wonderful part of the experience, we need to act responsibility.”