Why do dingoes attack people, and how can we prevent it?



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Dingoes are usually solitary, but can forage in groups near human settlements where food is abundant.
Klaasmer/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Bill Bateman, Curtin University and Trish Fleming

The case of Debbie Rundle, who was attacked by dingoes at a mine site in Telfer, in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, evokes our instinctive horror at the idea of being attacked by wild animals.

Rundle suffered severe leg injuries in the incident, and said she feared she may have been killed had her colleagues not come to her aid.




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We know that there are carnivores throughout the world with the potential to kill us. And while most of us will never come face to face with a hungry wolf, lion, tiger or bear, such attacks do unfortunately still occur.

In the scale of things, such attacks are very uncommon – although that is little consolation to the victim. Australia’s dingoes are no exception; despite some infamous examples, dingo attacks on humans are mercifully rare. But people will still understandably want to know why they happen at all, and what can be done to prevent them.

Why do wild animals attack?

Research on wolf attacks shows that, absent the influence of rabies which can increase wolves’ aggression, two common factors associated with attacks are that they often happen in human-modified environments, and by animals that are habituated to human presence.

These two variables are obviously linked: many species of mammalian carnivore are highly adaptable, and soon learn that human settlements are sources of food, water and shelter.

These human resources can have a profound effect on the behaviour of wild animals. Abundant human food often reduces animals’ aggression towards one another, and can result in the presence of much larger numbers of individuals than normal.

This is equally true of dingoes. Although they are usually observed alone, it is not uncommon to see groups of ten or more dingoes foraging at rubbish dumps associated with mine sites in the Tanami Desert of central Australia. There are thought to be around 100 dingoes that forage in and around the Telfer mine where Rundle was attacked.

Waste food may inadvertently entice animals to human settlements, and this may lead to predators becoming habituated to human presence. In Canada, a young man fell victim to a wolf attack at a mine site; the local wolves were reported to be used to humans, and would even follow rubbish trucks to the tip. They may have come to associate human smells with the provision of food.

Animals that are habituated to humans lose some of their natural wariness towards them. This is typical of many animal species that adapt to urban habitats, and while this may be an appealing trait in squirrels or garden birds, it can be quite different if the animal is a predator capable of attacking a human.

Coyotes can be dangerous, especially when they get used to living in human environments.
Marya/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

In the United States, there have been many reports of coyotes attacking humans. The coyote, like the dingo, is reasonably large (typically weighing 10–16kg) and can be found in close association with urban areas. The coyote’s natural range has expanded as wolves (their competitor) have dwindled, and their numbers have increased in and around cities where they find copious and consistent supplies of food and water.

A survey of reported attacks on humans by coyotes showed that many were “investigative”, often involving the animal trying to steal something they perceived as food from the person. Other attacks by coyotes could be identified as “predatory”, in which the victim was pursued and bitten, and often occurred when the coyotes were in a group.




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The Telfer dingo attack similarly appears to have been investigative – a young dingo climbed onto a table and grabbed Rundle’s phone. But the incident turned nasty when Rundle (perhaps understandably) followed the dingo that had her phone; this seemed to trigger a defensive or predatory attack from two other dingoes.

On Queensland’s Fraser Island, more than half of the recorded aggressive incidents by dingoes towards humans happened when the person was walking or running, suggesting that a “chase” response may have been involved.

The Telfer site, like other mine sites, has strict rules about putting waste food in bins, and managers have been proactive in training workers to not feed dingoes, in an attempt to prevent just such attacks. Rundle certainly seems to have followed these rules.

Unfortunately, in her case, other variables contributed to the attack – an investigative approach by one dingo that stole an item (that may have smelled of food) seems to have turned into an aggressive group attack when she followed the animals.




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What can we do to prevent such attacks? Mine site managers already do much to reduce the likelihood of such incidents by reducing dingoes’ access to food. Fencing off eating areas or storing food in cages – as is done at Fraser Island – can help in this regard.

Interestingly, many people believe that it is best not to act aggressively when they encounter a large carnivore, but in reality it depends on the species. For wolves and pumas, the best tactic seems to be to shout and throw objects to put them off.

The ConversationUltimately, the onus is on individual people to be aware of the potential danger of wild predators, and always to treat them with wariness and respect.

Bill Bateman, Senior Lecturer, Curtin University and Trish Fleming, Associate Professor

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How TV weather presenters can improve public understanding of climate change



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David Holmes, Monash University

A recent Monash University study of TV weather presenters has found a strong interest from free-to-air presenters in including climate change information in their bulletins.

The strongest trends in the survey, which had a 46% response rate, included:

  • 97% of respondents thought climate change is happening;

  • 97% of respondents believed viewers had either “strong trust” or “moderate trust” in them as a reliable source of weather information;

  • 91% of respondents were comfortable with presenting local historical climate statistics, and just under 70% were comfortable with future local climate projections; and

  • 97% of respondents thought their audiences would be interested in learning about the impacts of climate change.

According to several analyses of where Australians get their news, in the age of ubiquitous social media TV is still the single largest news source.

And when one considers that social media and now apps are increasingly used as the interface for sharing professional content from news organisations – which includes TV news – the reach of TV content is not about to be challenged anytime soon.

The combined audience for primetime free-to-air TV in the five capital city markets alone is a weekly average of nearly 3 million viewers. This does not include those using catch-up on portable devices, and those watching the same news within the pay TV audience. And there are those who are getting many of the same news highlights and clips through their Facebook feeds and app-based push media.

Yet the ever-more oligopolistic TV industry in Australia is very small. And professional weather presenters are a rather exclusive group: there are only 75 such presenters in Australia.

It is because of this, rather than in spite of it, that weather presenters are able to command quite a large following. And they are highly promoted by the networks themselves – on freeway billboards and station advertising. This promotion makes weather presenters among the most trusted media personalities, while simultaneously presenting information that is regarded as apolitical.

At the same time, Australians have a keen interest in talking about weather. It tends to unite us.

These three factors – trust, the impartial nature of weather, and Australian’s enthusiasm for the weather – puts TV presenters in an ideal position to present climate information. Such has been the experience in the US, where the Centre for Climate Change Communication together with Climate Matters have partnered with more than 350 TV weathercasters to present simple, easy-to-process factual climate information.

In the US it is about mainstreaming climate information as factual content delivered by trusted sources. The Climate Matters program found TV audiences value climate information the more locally based it was.

Monash’s Climate Change Communication Research Hub is conducting research as a precondition to establishing such a program in Australia. The next step is to survey the audiences of the free-to-air TV markets in the capital city markets to evaluate Australians’ appetite for creating a short climate segment alongside the weather on at least a weekly basis.

As in the US, TV audiences are noticing more and more extreme weather and want to understand what is causing it, and what to expect in the future.

The Climate Change Communication Research Hub is also involved in creating “climate communications packages” that can be tested with audiences. These are largely based on calendar and anniversary dates, and show long-term trends using these dates as datapoints.

The calendar dates could be sporting dates, or how climate can be understood in relation to a collection of years based on a specific date, or the start of a season for fire or cyclones. There has been so much extreme weather in recent years that there are plenty of anniversaries.

Let’s take November 21, 2016 – the most severe thunderstorm asthma event ever to impact Melbourne. It saw 8,500 presentations to hospital emergency departments and nine tragic deaths.

There is no reason why this event can’t be covered this year in the context of climate as a community service message. As explained in the US program, just a small increase in higher average spring temperatures leads to the production of a higher count of more potent pollen. Also, as more energy is fed into the destructive power of storm systems, the prospect of breaking up pollen and distributing it efficiently throughout population centres is heightened.

The need to be better prepared for thunderstorms in spring is thus greater, even for those who have never had asthma before.

For its data, the Climate Change Communication Research Hub will be relying on the information from the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO, but will call on the assistance of a wide range of organisations such as the SES, state fire services, and health authorities in conducting its research.

In February 2018, the hub will hold a workshop with TV weather presenters as part of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society conference. At the conference the planning for the project will be introduced, with a pilot to be conducted on one media market to be rolled out to multiple markets in the second year.

The ConversationThe program is not intended to raise the level of concern about climate change, but public understanding of it. As survey after survey shows, Australians are already concerned about climate change. But more information is needed about local and regional impacts that will help people make informed choices about mitigation, adaptation and how to plan their lives – beyond tomorrow’s weather.

David Holmes, Director, Climate Change Communication Research Hub, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.