Utilising aversive conditioning to manage the behaviour of K’gari (Fraser Island) dingoes (Canis dingo)

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Appleby, R
Smith, B
Bernede, L
Jones, D
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K’gari (Fraser Island) offers a rare opportunity for people to observe and encounter wild dingoes. Occasionally, however, such encounters can entail dingoes acting in a threatening or aggressive manner towards people, resulting in human injury and, in one tragic case, death. A suite of approaches aimed at minimising the risk to human safety posed by dingoes have been implemented on the island, including fencing, island-wide warning signage, and regulations against feeding. Despite such measures, negative encounters continue, and in cases where dingoes are deemed to pose an unacceptable risk, they are usually destroyed. In searching for non-lethal management alternatives, attempts have been made to modify undesirable dingo behaviour through aversive conditioning, but results to date have either been mixed or largely disappointing. Here we review a wide array of research that has utilised aversive stimuli in an effort to modify and manage the behaviour of wild animals, with a particular focus on related predators such as coyotes and wolves. We identified eight major categories of experimental research: conditioned taste aversion/avoidance (CTA), electric fencing, fladry, chemical repellents, fear-evoking stimuli, physical repellents, aversive collars/devices and hard release procedures. We then outline each of these categories in more detail, complete with pertinent examples of successes and failures as well as advantages and disadvantages. We conclude that some approaches offer promise within three main areas of incident mitigation experimentation: dingo exclusion (e.g. electric fencing), personal protection (mild chemical irritant sprays, sturdy umbrellas) and remedial aversive conditioning (e.g. shock collars). Other approaches, such as CTA and sublethal projectiles are not recommended. Like any approach, aversive conditioning is not a panacea, but it does offer promise in filling gaps in current management and as an alternative to lethal control.

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Pacific Conservation Biology

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Environmental sciences

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