June 30, 2009

Dingo Sanctuary Aims To Reshape Public Opinion

Despite slanted public opinion about dingoes in Australia, one sanctuary in Victoria is trying to revive the disappearing population of dogs that have settled in Australia for more than 5,000 years.

Lyn and Peter Watson have worked with canines for years. Lyn is an internationally renowned sight hound expert and a qualified all breeds dog judge. Peter was the first to reside as President of the Victorian Canine Association.

Together, the Watsons have created the Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Center. The sanctuary is devoted to preserving the descendants of the original dingoes that arrived in Australia from Asia more than 5,000 years ago.

But the dingo is facing extinction in certain regions of the country, said Lyn Watson. She blames interbreeding with wild dogs as well as humans for the disintegration of the species.

However, she said once people in the international community found out that the dingo had become endangered in parts of Australia, many zoos from around the globe began to be interested in the animal.

"It's changed attitudes overseas, zoos are now interested in participating in efforts to preserve the dingo as a pure-bred species," said Watson.

She said she has received inquiries from zoos in Japan, New Zealand, the US, Brazil and Europe.

The Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Center currently houses about 30 pure-bred dingoes in rural Victoria.

But Watson said that apart from gaining interest in the international community, the dingo has barriers of public opinion to overcome at home.

The dingo has been the source of pain for many farmers in Australia who blame the dogs for killing livestock.

And perhaps the most memorable dingo incidents were those that involved the deaths of two children on separate occasions.

The first case occurred in 1980 when a dingo took a baby from a tent at Uluru rock in the central Australian desert.

The second incident occurred when dingoes killed nine-year-old Clinton Gage in 2001 at Fraser Island.

"We're about education here as much as anything else," Watson told AFP.

"But there's a lot of prejudice we've got to overcome. There's been wholesale slaughter of dingoes in the wild, it's a shocking record."

The Watsons have developed a presentation for primary school children, which allows them to show a slide show and bring a live dingo into the classroom for children to pet.

Watson told AFP that dingoes are Australia's native wolves, because it "better reflects their wild origin and helps dispel expectations that dingoes will behave like normal dogs."

"A dog is a dingo simpleton," she said. "They're very sweet and biddable but a dingo's never going to be like that because it has to survive in the wild and unless it can think for itself, it's not going to make it.

"They're extremely complex and very intelligent.

"If a dog owner has a dingo and does not give it enough stimulation to occupy its mind, you can end up with a troublesome animal."

We haven't got any lions, we haven't got any tigers, we haven't got any bears. We have none of those predators that are on every other healthy continent."

"The dingo is it in Australia, and he really should be respected for the role he plays, because every other living thing depends on it."

Last week, Dr. Mike Letnic from the University of Sydney reported that despite common fears that dingoes threaten certain animal populations, they could actually help smaller native creatures stay alive by killing other animals that pose dangers to their existence.

"There is a lot of pressure to get rid of dingoes, and they can do damage," Letnic told BBC News.

"The prevailing view that they're introduced and must be removed. But dingoes suppress fox and kangaroo numbers, and when you don't have dingoes in the system, kangaroos basically eat all the herbage and foxes take all of the prey."

"The chances are that [cattle farmers] lose more by what kangaroos do than by what dingoes do," Letnic said.

His study is published in the Royal Society's journal Proceedings B.


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