You are here

Dingoes maligned - "loose" terminology used in labeling contact between dingoes and humans

Azaria Chamberlain was just nine weeks old when she disappeared on Aug. 17, 1980, from a camping ground near Ayer's Rock, (now known as Uluru), in Australia's outback.

Lindy Chamberlain said soon after that she saw a dingo leaving the family's tent with the baby in its mouth. Azaria's body has never been found.

The 32-year-old case of whether a dingo killed baby Azaria Chamberlain may finally be closed as an inquest in Australia hears new evidence.

When Lindy Chamberlain cried out that a dingo's got my baby, it reverberated round Australia, bringing reactions of incredulity and skepticism, fueled by the seemingly calm appearance of Michael and Lindy Chamberlain.

Two campers, Bill and Judith West, heard a dingo growl near the tent. There were dingo paw prints at the entrance. There were drag marks in the sand and an indentation consistent with a baby's jumpsuit and people actually followed dingo tracks for a time away from the campsite.   The Chamberlains gave the tent to the police who allegedly cleaned the tent floor, erasing evidence.

The Chamberlains went on trial, Lindy convicted of murder in October 1982 and sentenced to life imprisonment - a mandatory sentence for murder in the Territory.   Michael given a suspended sentence for being an accessory after the fact.

The coronial inquest into the death in the Australian outback of baby Azaria, the fourth since the infant disappeared, began in Darwin Magistrates Court in the Northern Territory in response to new information provided by the baby's parents.

The evidence concerns several dingo attacks on infants and young children since Azaria's death.

(The inquest) is the only way I know to let Australians know once and for all that dingoes are dangerous, a statement from Mrs Chamberlain-Creighton read in court said.   

Fraser Island’s dingo population is facing extinction within the next ten to 20 years and continue to be labeled as “dangerous” and aggressive animals.

National Dingo Preservation and Recovery Program - Media Release

National Dingo Preservation and Recovery Program ( Inc. A0051763G)spokesperson, Dr Ernest Healy, stated in a Media Release February 21, 2012, that:

DERM has applied a ridiculously loose standard in labeling contact between dingoes and humans on Fraser Island as ‘attacks’ or as ‘dangerous’.

The Department has applied a no-tolerance approach to dingo-human contact, whereby virtually any contact at all has been labeled as ‘aggression’ on the part of the dingo. DERM has persisted with categorizing the most trivial forms of contact as aggressive, for which large numbers of high-conservation-value dingoes have been put down.

Dr Healy added:

That these flawed records, a product of the mismanagement of the Fraser Island dingo population, should now be used to further vilify the reputation of the dingo in the Azaria Chamberlain case appears self-serving on DERM’s part. One has to wonder if DERM is now using the Azaria Chamberlain inquest to attempt to legitimize its track record of dingo mismanagement on Fraser Island. If so, this situation is one that all Queenslanders should be outraged about.

That records compiled as a part of the mismanagement of the Fraser Island dingo population should now be used to vilify the dingo in another context highlights the need for a judicial enquiry into Fraser Island dingo management by DERM. A change of government in Queensland in the near future may provide the catalyst for such an enquiry.

Further, it is of concern that Chamberlain attorney may rely on DERM assertions which can be shown to be incorrect. In particular, the claim that habituation = aggression is misleading and may distort the inquiry’s findings. Although DERM maintains that its categorisation of dingo behaviour on Fraser Island is objective, in practice its use of the term ‘aggression’ remains largely subjective.

A member of our group spent 7 years in the field on Fraser Island observing dingoes at close quarters – photographing them and recording their behaviour. She was never harmed, threatened or attacked.

Likewise with long-term residents of the Island. DERM’s incident reports, which number in the hundreds, show that behaviour leading up to alleged ‘attacks’ primarily consisted of curious or playful juvenile dingo behaviour. Many incident reports show that the ‘attacks’ were not aggressive by commonly accepted standards.

Dingo behaviour is coded as follows:

  • A Avoidance or wary
  • B Habituated
  • C nuisance or problem
  • D aggressive
  • E Dangerous

The random sample of DERM incident reports are do not necessarily match the set of reports selected for submission to the Chamberlain inquiry – which may only include ‘dangerous’ incidents) show that 68.5% were code C incidents; 17% were code D, and only 11% were code E.

Of the code E incidents described in the reports, only 4% record biting, or attempted biting. In three cases dingoes were destroyed for ‘attempted biting’; t There were two cases of the dingo ‘circling’ a person, and one record where the dingo ‘did not bare its teeth or attempt to bite’.

In many cases of D category incidents, the dingoes were easily scared away, which implies no serious intent to attack. In 23% of C & D incidents, the dingo was noted as ‘non-aggressive’. We submit that, in many cases, the behaviour was merely juvenile play behaviour. This is because, in 100% of reports we studied, the dingoes were under 12 months old.

This is supported by an early Department report which states: ‘nuisance behaviour is usually associated with a juvenile animal’s playful character.’ (Price 1994)

It is disturbing that a large percentage of ‘incidents’ (22%) were instigated by DERM rangers.
To the extent that incidents of dingo aggression on Fraser Island may be treated seriously, it is our view that such aggression reflects the mismanagement and mistreatment of the dingo population, rather than any inherent behavioural tendency in the animal itself.

Forty per cent of the ‘incident’ reports were principally cases of dingo ‘sightings’, recorded as ‘loitering’. The response in 30% of these circumstances was to haze the dingo, or in other cases the dingoes had already previously undergone intense hazing programs. Hazing is shooting a dingo with a clay marble from a sling shot or firing pellets from a 22 rifle. In some cases, the dingoes had undergone aversive therapy using electric shock collars, a practice condemned by the RSPCA.

It is instructive to note what people were doing prior to an alleged attack. For example, people giving food to dingoes to lure them for a photo and then chasing them with sticks when they were sick of them.

DERM’s preferred dingo expert, Dr Laurie Corbett, who is currently cited by DERM in defence of the ‘habituation = aggression’ hypothesis, is quoted in Lionel Hudson’s 1974 publication, Dingoes Don’t Bark, as saying there had been no unprovoked attack on a person by a dingo.

Notwithstanding the dubious characterisation of dingo in alleged attacks on Fraser Island, the degree of responsibility exercised by parents and adults with children in such circumstances has been questionable.

One such incident involved an alleged attack by a dingo on a child on Fraser Island in 2007, where it is claimed that a young girl was attacked near a car loading point on the beach. An affidavit from a barge skipper (who did not witness the incident, but spoke to the people involved) describes his warning to persons at the loading point to stay close to their children. The skipper also described the situation as one where the parents and the child did not seem overly distressed after the incident.

The parents subsequently admitted that they took their eyes of the child for a moment. However, according to witnesses, the child was at least 200 metres away from the parents at the time of the alleged attack.

Hybrids are more aggressive

Dingo expert Laurie Corbett has written that apart from the contamination of the gene pool, hybrids pose more of a threat to the pastoral industry than pure Dingoes do. Female hybrids come into oestrous twice each year, and are capable of killing many more calves than pure dingoes can. Paradoxically they do not eat them. Also, in urban areas, hybrids are probably more dangerous to humans than most pure domestic dog breeds.... At the time of writing, 1995, there had been eight human fatalities caused by “pet” wolf hybrids.

Could it be that the “dingo” that killed Azaria Chamberlain was more likely to have been a hybrid or a wild dog?

Corbett recommended education is the best way to help people understand the Dingos' plight and push for policies to retain the species as part of Australia's national heritage. There should be more "education" on managing human behaviour with regards to dingo interaction on Fraser Island!!

(Corbett, Laurie, Australia Nature, Summer 1995-96, “Dingoes: Expatriate Wolves of Native Dogs?”)
Contacts: Radio: Ernest Healy, President NDPRP,
Newspaper: Jennifer Parkhurst, Fraser Island Representative NDPRP,

The National Dingo Preservation and Recovery Program is a non-profit organisation that brings together environmental scientists, conservation organisations and concerned individuals to ensure the protection of the dingo as an integral part of Australian ecosystems. The organisation aims to:
* encourage legislative and government policy change to ensure the protection and survival of the dingo in the wild, and
*inform and educate the public and government as to the cultural, ecological and historical significance of the dingo.

Image icon twopuppies.jpg22.33 KB
Image icon ear-taggedpuppy.jpg87.35 KB
Image icon Kirra-gaunt.jpg39.81 KB
Image icon 23635.jpg25.18 KB


Initially, back in 1982, 1983, ... I was amongst those who, in ignorance, ridiculed Lindy Chamberlain's claims that a dingo had taken Azaria.

I referred to it in 2009 here (on this site) and here (on

"I believed for many years that Lindy Chamberlain killed baby Azaria. ..."

I read "Evil Angels" and saw the movie some time after I initially judged Lindy to be guilty, but that was some time ago.

It seems to me that the death of Azaria can only be explained by one of two implausible explanations:

1. Lindy killed her own child, probably as part of a bizarre religious sacrifice

2. A 'dingo' took Azaria and successfully disposed of the body.

I choose the second as the least implausible.

Hans Brunner, who is a contributor to and a specialist in hair identification was largely responsible for the reversal of Lindy Chamberlain's conviction. My understanding was that the crux of the matter was a botched identification of blood by a British forensic specialist, which turned out not to be blood, plus a lack of understanding or ability to identify dog (dingo) hair.

Hans Brunner wrote to me today at 0905hrs, about his involvement as a forensic expert in the Azaria Chamberlain appeal case in the Northern Territory:

"My involvement was the identification of hairs collected from Azaria's singlet and jump suit. The court was told that they were from a Cat and not from a Dingo. After my examination of the same hairs there was absolutely no doubt that the hairs belonged to a Dog and never a Cat. Since there were no other breeds of dogs allowed in the area I left it to the court to conclude that they must therefore be the hairs of a Dingo.

In my book The Identification of Mammalian Hair the reference hairs used to describe dog hairs came from a dingo, (Canis familiaris dingo). I had easy access to dingo pelts at work. So when I saw the hairs in question, recognition was instant.

The court knew all along that Lindy was innocent and when the matinee jacket was found it gave them an excuse to release her from prison.

And now, they use another excuse, namely that after all, Dingoes do kill and injure children and adults which was already well known at that time. This is now in order to be able to admit that a dingo took the baby Azaria. I hope that this will be their verdict.

I have my own idea as to what happened on that day. All I can say is that Lindy would have to be twice as clever as Houdini to accomplish what they assumed she did.

The reason for all this coverup was in order to protect the tourist industry and to say that dingoes are not dangerous to people, even at the expense of an innocent person that had to go to prison.

Hans Brunner"

[Some small typos corrected by Sheila Newman]

I was Lindy I would be pissed off.

The truth finally accepted by a pre-judging media.
All that wasted publcity and no Womans Day 'EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW', 'no books, no t-shirts, no mini-series, no merchandise - key ring, souvenir spoons, fridge magnets, or even snow globes.

Suggan Buggan
Snowy River Region
Victoria 3885

The newspapers at the time swelled their circulations with wild speculations on bizarre ideas due to the family being Seventh Day Adventists. This church is not a sect but a mainstream Christian church, except that they meet on Saturday and are vegetarian. They are actually quite conservative, not outlandish with secret rituals and dogma. There was plenty of evidence of dingos and wild dogs around at the time, and the police washed clean the space blanket evidence with footprints on it. Why is it assumed that wildlife in Australia are completely benign and children can be left unsupervised? It's quite possible that somebody did have a hand in disposing of the baby's body - perhaps to avoid "bad" publicity for the camping ground?

Exaggeration of "aggressive" behaviour at Fraser Island should not be used to support this inquest. The evidence should stand on it's own and children should not be left unsupervised around wildlife, and dingoes should have their food supplemented with food drops.

The media at the time of Azaria's disappearance focused on Lindy's apparently calm almost clinical demeanor when really it was probably within the normal range. Not everybody reacts in all situations after a trauma as though they were in a soap opera. The stories that went around about sacrifice were complete rubbish based on people not having a broad enough apprehension of the various branches of the Christian religion and being too ready to set the Chamberlains apart.

I agree with Nimby that parents need to take responsibility for their children in the presence of animals, especially animals they don't know. How would a hungry dog know that a delicious looking plump helpless baby is forbidden to him?

Dingoes are wild animals like wolves, so why should the myth persist beyond media advertising revenue justification?

Australian's affection with dogs has bred a culturally misguided extension that wild Australian native Dingoes, since they look like domesticated dogs, can be domesticated.

Fraser Island experiences repeatedly have disproven that myth tragically.
Mainstream naive tourists (lowest common denominators) who pervade into Dingo territory, need to be pre-educated about 'Wildlife Respect' akin to those fanciful about salt water crocodiles. Australia's low brow bogan dog infatuation is an anathematic contaminant to Australia's pure Dingo.

The Dingo is Australia's wild dog. As a native animal, it deserves respect and protection from feral dogs and their feral owners alike.

That Australia's public (twisted and guided by corporate media) after 30 years still is pent up on judging and debating the question whether a wild Dingo could have dared taken baby Azaria Chamberlain, reflects Australian social immaturity and rejection of native Australian values in favour of 19th Century inherited colonial values, when wildlife were demonised as 'vermin'.

Suggan Buggan
Snowy River Region
Victoria 3885

We should not be surprised at anything that might happen even with domestic dogs and humans. Many dogs are very well trained and patient with children but even “good dogs” will snap if they feel threatened. Most victims of dog bites are children under 5 probably because they can’t fully distinguish the dog from a toy, get too close and test the patience of the animal.
We need to see our relationships with other animals in their full variety of possibilities and not in some idealized way.
In the real world animals eat the babies of other animals. On an ABC documentary on Macquarie Island the other night, killer whales ate baby seals on their first foray into the sea. That’s a bit like your child being abducted and murdered on her way to school for the first time! A baby penguin was being attacked by another sea bird. The most dominant species of all, the human, takes the babies of other animals from their mothers, takes the milk intended for these babies, feeds the babies from a machine then transports them for slaughter and consumption in their first few weeks of life. In the egg industry I'm told that male chicks are dispatched in grinding machines as soon as their sex is identified. Their sisters are of course incarcerated for life as egg laying machines. We have probably all seen the obscenely cruel way that animals are slaughtered in abattoirs in Indonesia but also in Australia! Compared with the probable dingo crime of taking an unguarded human baby for food, these acts, systematically enshrined in industrial food production for humans rein supreme as heinous cruelty. Outside domestic food production other widespread enshrined practices include baby kangaroos having their heads belted against tow bars in Australia, baby seals are clubbed to death in Canada, and dolphins are attacked as they swim in the shallows in Norway.
All this aside, humans still love dolphins, risk their lives to save whales, wildlife carers have sleepless nights, years on end helping orphaned wild life to survive. One needs to be 3 dimensional in understanding the real complex and contradictory interrelationships of humans and other animals in the 21st century.

Each human century adds a new sentient being to having rights.

One doesn't have to read too far back into human history to be shocked that women, children, and non-whites had no rights.
In this Century, Wildlife Jurisprudence is overdue.

Our grandchildren will then be shocked that we abused wildlife.

Suggan Buggan
Snowy River Region
Victoria 3885

While tiger quoll and others wish to claim animal rights and various takes on how we should exist--is any-one interested that the wise burghers-had the choice of either accepting the eye-witness report of the West Australian professor and his wife--whom both saw the dingo departing from the Chamberlain tent--or the Northern Territory Government and Legislative authorities--who decided they did not want their new tourism centre and at that time burgeoning new industry--to contain 'wild animals'. For this US backed venture--we incarcerated an innocent person--and then as all fall-guy scenarios go--we rather than the responsible parties--then paid the compensation. These ignorant and totally unfit representatives still maintain their memoirs are worth reading.

dingoes have been here thousands of years, not to mention being an important part of our natural ecosystem, white man has only been here a couple of hundred years.. who has more right to be here? anyone with half a brain knows not to leave children unattended where there's wild animals...& yet people have the arrogance to forget we are not apex predators.

Suspend Fraser Island's World Heritage listing until the tourists are completely prohibited.
World Heritage Listing was all a cynical tourism rating anyway.

Fraser Island needs to become a wildlife sanctuary protected from human exploitation and from baby baiting of dingos.

Suggan Buggan
Snowy River Region
Victoria 3885

I love it when supposedly educated people put a low price on human life (baby baiting dingos). I am an animal lover but God gave dominion

over every animal to humans. And if an animal is dangerous and hurts children then that is what it is. I have problem making a place for dingos but people need to be warned and children need to be protected. A small child has no reason to be there and people who take their kids there should think: Do I want to go camping or keep my kid? Not that I like dingos, I have no love for them at all but as adults we should all have some common sense . I do hold the highest respect for the people who have lost their children in such a sad and scary way . That is why people should be warned and not allowed to take small children under the age of 12 on the island . Thank u.

"God gave dominion over every animal to humans"...yes, and it's a heavy responsibility that is being ignored by the human race. Dominion is not about culling, eating, exploiting, vilifying and exterminating - but a heavy and serious responsibility to ensure the wellbeing and survival of non-human creatures considering the potential power of homo sapiens to nurture, or destroy.
Human population growth and encroachment onto territories they have no right to "tame" or destroy is causing havoc on the Earth. The rate of species extinctions is shameful, and human-caused. Fraser Island is the only place left in Australia for pure dingoes yet the tourist dollars is considered more important.
There's no reason why people should go camping on Fraser Island with children and dingoes have a rightful place in Australia. What about some "common sense" that whether you actually "like" dingoes or not is relevant, but the ridiculously elevated level that has been put on human life above the planet's wildlife and ecosystems is a misrepresentation of "dominion". There are some places that we humans must accept is wildlife habitat, and not necessarily ever safe for humans. That's the way it is!

This idea of God and dominion is logically antithetical to ecological science. If you substitute Mother Nature for God, I find it puts things in perspective. Mother Nature incorporates the laws of thermodynamics, of catabolism and anabolism, and the organisation of DNA into microorganisms, complex organisms, organs and living natural environments. There are lots of rules in this system, but if there is any 'morality' in this system, it is the subjective one that life-forms need to preserve its integrity so that it remains hospitable to them. One of the rules is that no one creature can exist without a lot of the others and each environment is connected to the next. Consider how you are made up of microorganisms, adapted to form your systems, like hair, skin and blood cells and digestion. Some of these organisms can even live independently of us - such as our bowel fauna. If our internal ecology gets upset, those organisms can take us over and kill us, in the same way that we might spray chemicals on a dirty sink to kill bacterial slime. Of course, most organisms that turn on their organ-colleagues die with them. This is part of nature. For instance, as our immune systems (which have evolved from all kinds of cellular and viral organisms to cooperate to defend their larger community - you) get weaker with age, our vulnerability to cancer increases. If we introduce antibiotics into our guts to kill one organism, we can finish up with an overgrowth of another organism and die. Antibiotic-associated enterocolitis can occur following antibiotic treatment, when normally harmless Clostridia difficile are able to grow past their normal populations and overwhelm the gut. In liver disease, you also get overgrowths of gut organisms that excrete ammonia, causing delirium and death. Amazingly this process, which used to kill people quickly, can be stopped by taking lactulose which is a synthetic sugar that changes the chemical environment to be less hospitable to the ammonia producing organisms and encourage the growth of their competitors. There is a virtually seemless progression between humans and other life-forms and the chemicals that make them up; I find it impossible to consider that my species is 'in control' any more than I think that clostridium difficils is 'in control' when it takes over.

What has helped humans get out of control? Fire, which permits the forging of all kinds of technology, plus fossil and atomic fuels which give us access to enormous quantities of fire. But fire also destroys. We can see that at a simple level but there is still much to be drawn from the myth of Prometheus. By the way, the recent film by that name, draws some connections, although it finishes up with a Christian pilgrim in search of the answer.

Rather than 'God giving us dominion', I would say that Mother Nature suggests that we learn the rules and play by them.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist

Geneis 1:26
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

Sheila wrote: "This idea of God and dominion is logically antithetical to ecological science". Actually it was never meant to be about science, just like the rest of the Bible. Genesis is about the who and why, not the what where, of Creation. It's about a relationship of humans with the rest of the planet. Confusing science with theology has been the fault of previous generations, with disastrous consequences.

Theologian Rev. Andrew Linzey states, "We need a concept of ourselves in the universe not as the master species but as the servant species--as the one given responsibility for the whole and the good of the whole. We must move from the idea that animals were given to us and made for us to the idea that we were made for creation, to serve it and ensure its continuance".

"Dominion" doesn’t mean "exploitation", "decapitation" and "domination", but rather a responsibility for stewardship.

Einstein reminds us that the intelligence and capacity of human beings is at its best when infused with compassion. Dominion means guardianship or stewardship - being co-workers with God in taking care of and improving the world. (Shabbat 119; Sanhedrin 7)

The fact is that human beings are playing God with animals, genetically breeding them to grow so quickly that their hearts, lungs, and limbs can often not keep up is heretical. So is the overpopulation of humans, and the extinction of species.

There are natural rules that apply for all species, and Nature makes no exception in the laws. Destruction of habitats, overpopulation, vandalism of ecosystems all have catastrophic consequences, for the co-existing species, for ongoing survival, and the welfare of future generations. Human "dominion" has failed miserably!

Subject was: Reply to comment | (We) can do better
Dear AVG, Thank you for your kind comments. However, if you want similar comments, which include advertising, posted to candobetter in future, you will also need to:
  • address the topic at hand, whether or not in agreement, in order to add to the discussion;
  • show that you have promoted candobetter or similar discussion forums elsewhere on the Internet, preferably with links back to pages here; or
  • either or both of the above.
Comments, which include advertising, even if they are complimentary, are not considered helpful, by other site visitors, if they don't add to the discussion. - Ed

I am agnostic as to whether a dingo took the baby or not, however i do understand what it is like to keep being brave when confronted by mass media frenzy. I can empathise with Lindy insofar as when i was facing court for the charges against me for 'interfering' with dingoes, i was utterly terrified and could barely walk. but i had to maintain an outward appearance of strength. no one sees how much you cry at night or how it affects you 'forever'. anyway, thanks for a balanced and interesting article. i appreciate the fact that you have included all the submissions we made.