Last updated January 31, 2018 at 5:02 pm
New research out today suggests that carrying a sturdy umbrella might be an effective way to ward off unwanted dingo interactions on Fraser Island.
As part of a suite of methods to protect visitors, who flock to the island for the opportunities to encounter wild dingos, the authors also suggest that “aversive conditioning” methods such electric fencing and shock collars could be a workable alternative to culling the animals.
But as a personal animal repellent, the authors of the current study suggest that an umbrella might be more useful than the current recommendation of carrying a stick.
Umbrellas have a mixed reputation in deterring wild animals. They have previously been shown to be only moderately effective against bears, which after being initially repelled, actually became interested in them.
To effectively ward off dingos, the authors suggest an “enhanced” umbrella with lights or sounds to put dingos off getting any closer might work even better.
Bring on the dingo repelling disco umbrella!
It turns out umbrellas have an interesting history of use in animal behavior studies. When seen as a pointy stick that rapidly increases in size, you can imagine how an umbrella might confuse, startle or induce fear in animals, to which making yourself bigger is often seen as a sign of aggression or dominance. Looking big is universally important to mammals (and birds) in conflict.
Umbrellas have been used as a device to scare animals in all sorts of research. Want to know whether caged chickens or free range chickens grow up to be more fearful? Open umbrellas at them (unsurprisingly the caged chickens rated higher for fear and stress).
Want to pick the dog from the shelter that will make a better service dog? Open umbrellas at them. Of all the stimuli dogs responded to in this study, from staring, sudden movements or touching the dogs, the umbrella was the best predictor for seeing how dogs respond to fear.
Want to know if a cow is scared? Open umbrellas at them. This study showed that the phrase “white-eyed with fear” also applies to cows, who did indeed get larger areas of whites of their eyes showing as part of a startle response to having umbrellas waved at them by researchers.
Of course no mention of animals being startled by umbrellas could go by without including the internet-famous fainting goats.
This is a specific breed of goat, and they’re not fainting at all after being startled by the umbrella, but rather suffering temporary stiffening of their muscles. It’s a disease called myotonia congenita. When startled, the goats muscles tense up, but due to a mutation in a protein responsible for controlling ion channels in their muscles, can’t relax as quickly as normal.
So add the umbrella to the unlikely toolkit of animal behavioural research.