HIKERS AND backpackers in Australia are being warned about a fierce new breed of half-dingo wild dog stalking the country's mountains and forests.
Abandoned or escaped domestic dogs including breeds such as Rottweilers, Bullmastiffs and Rhodesian Ridgebacks have interbred with Australia's native dog to produce a new strain of "super-dingoes".
The crossbreeds are bigger and more powerful than ordinary dingoes. One animal recently shot dead by a farmer reportedly weighed 154lb. The ‘Super Dingoes’ are killing livestock and menacing walkers, horse riders and campers along the Great Dividing Range, a chain of mountains, gorges and national parks extending from Queensland through New South Wales to Victoria.
"They are extremely ferocious," Brian Tomalin, of the New South Wales Farmers' Association, said. "There's a real possibility that someone is going to be killed by one of these things, especially if they stumble on a den."
The dogs have killed so many sheep that in some areas farmers have had to switch to farming cattle to prevent such widespread stock loss.
Farmers say the dingoes are so aggressive that it is only a matter of time before they attack a hiker or farmer. In 2001, wild dingoes on Fraser Island, a holiday resort off the coast of Queensland, killed a nine-year-old boy.
Inter-breeding between dingoes and domestic dogs has been going on for many years. It is now believed that less than 1% of wild dingoes are ‘pure’ dingoes, due to interbreeding with other canines since settlers first came to Australia.
The problem has worsened considerably in the last seven years for two reasons: the ending of a poisoned baiting programme in national parks which controlled numbers, and a rise in recreational hunting in the forests.
Hunters use breeds such as Rottweilers and ridgebacks to chase wild pigs; many of these dogs get lost and then mate with dingoes.
The programme of dropping poisoned bait from planes and helicopters in national parks was abandoned amid concerns that it was killing off endangered native species, in particular the Tiger Quoll, a marsupial about the size of a cat.
Angry farmers have been calling for a resumption of aerial baiting, saying the crossbreed dogs are increasing in number and becoming much bolder. One farmer whose property is on the edge of the Byadbo wilderness area in the Snowy Mountains lost 250 sheep in two weeks.
Another farmer, Stuart Morant, 50, who rears 500 sheep on a 1,000-acre property in the Tallangatta Valley in Victoria, has lost thousands of pounds worth of livestock to dog attacks over the past few years. Farmers receive no compensation for their losses.
Mr Morant said: "Aside from the financial loss, it is incredibly distressing. I walked down to one of the paddocks one morning to find that a wild dog had attacked a ewe as it was giving birth to a lamb. The dog had eaten half the lamb as it was coming out of the womb, and killed the mother.
"Even if sheep survive the actual attack, the dogs' teeth carry so much infection that the animals die later of blood poisoning. It wouldn't surprise me if someone gets killed by one of these things. They are big and aggressive and seem to know no fear."
Instead of aerial baiting, park rangers are now adopting a technique known as "mound baiting", which entails burying non-poisoned chunks of meat in sand in the forest. Once they are sure that wild dogs have located the mound and are digging up the meat, they switch to poisoned bait.
The technique is effective - 250 wild dogs have been killed in the vast Kosciusko National Park in the last year - but is extremely labour intensive.