The Dingo

Canis lupis dingo

 

***

The world's remaining Dingo (Canis lupis dingo) populations are concentrated in Austalia and south-east Asia.

In particular it is found in the islands and mainland of southern and southeast Asia including Papua New Guinea (formerly C. hallstromi), Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Burma, Thailand and southern China. Thailand presently has the purest populations of Dingoes. The Dingo is found throughout mainland Australia except where excluded from sheep grazing areas by the famous dingo fence in the east and the west.

Most closely related to the semi-domestic Dog of South-east Asia, it seems to have arrived in Australia about 4,000 years ago. Some Dingos have a semi-domestic relationship with Aborigines (who came to Australia at least 40,000 years ago and could not have introduced the animal).

The Dingo cannot be reliably distinguished on any external characteristics. It is a primitive canine that evolved from a wolf 6,000- 10,000 years ago. It is often ginger-colored with white points to the ears and tail, but it can be black as well. It differs from the domestic dog in that the Dingo breeds only once a year and it seldom barks. It also has far better survival skills than any domestic dog would ever have. It is, indeed, more wolf than dog.

Dingos (along with dogs and cross-breeds) are abundant in Aboriginal communities. They have been in Australia for thousands of years and are represented in the rock-art sites around Laura, near Olkola country. The Dingo figures prominently in certain stories.

The average adult Dingo in Australia stands 570 mm at the shoulder, is 1230 mm long from nose to tail-tip, and it weighs 15 kg; Dingoes are smaller in Asia.

It is an inhabitant of woodland and grassland, often the edge of forest, feeding on the Rabbit, as well as on a wide range of terrestrial marsupials, rodents, reptiles and sheep. Macropod marsupials are the most common element of diet in all studies (Australia).

Population density of the Dingo is a function of prey availability. It hunts in packs for large prey, singly when feeding on small animals.

Time of mating: Mar.- Apr. (autumn to early winter in Australia); Average number in a litter: 1-10, mean 5.4 (Australia). Females become sexually mature at 2 years and have only one estrus period each year, although some do not breed in droughts. Mating occurs from autumn to early winter and litters of three or four are born from late winter to spring.

Says Dingo expert, Laurie Corbett: "Dingoes do kill and eat cattle, sheep and other stock; they always have and always will. Pastoralists have so feared Dingoes that many millions of dollars have been spent over the past 150 years or so trying to kill them or exclude them from pastoral areas. The longest fence in the world is a momument to that. Probably more has been written about the Dingo wars than any other aspect of 'dingology', yet only two facts stand out: all the effort has been extremely expensive and, by and large, it has not worked."

There is compelling circumstantial evidence that the Dingo was responsible for the extermination of the Thylacine and Tasmanian Devil on the Australian mainland.

 

Conservation Notes

Today Dingoes are under threat of extinction from one primary source. In more settled coasta areas of Australia and increasingly so in outback Australia, the barriers between domestic dogs, (feral and urban) and Dingoes, are being rapidly removed so that cross-breeding is common and the pure Dingo gene pool is being swamped. Already in the South-Eastern highlands about one third of the populations are cross-breeds (hybrids), and, unless there is a radical change in people's attitudes, the extinction of pure Dingoes seems inevitable.

Indeed, in mid-1993 the Dingo was recognized by the Australian National Kennel Council as an official dog breed and adopted as Australia's national breed, according to L. Corbett. He says that unless the registration of pure Dingoes is done absolutely correctly, this landmark decision will speed up the extinction of pure Dingoes. For more information consult his book, The Dingo in Australia and Asia.

"So what does the future hold for the Dingo? In its travels throughout the world the Dingo has faced many battles for survival against man and nature, from fullscale eradication campaigns and enormous fences to unjustified victimization and subversive genetic manipulations. Although Dingoes have won most of the battles, the cruel irony is that they are steadily losing the war, thanks to their evolutionary progeny, domestic dogs.   In the end, their chances of continued survival in the wild will rest solely on the efforts of an informed public to stop contact between Dingoes and domestic dogs, and to take pride in Dingoes as native species whether they be Thai or Australian."

 

2009 Update from Dr. Ellen:

Dingoes are the largest terrestrial predator in Australia. However, they are now extinct over much of their former range and face widespread persecution in many areas where they remain. Predation by introduced mesopredators (cats and foxes) and overgrazing by sheep and cattle are the major threats to biodiversity in Australia, not the Dingo.

Dingoes benefit biodiversity conservation by reducing the abundance of foxes and large herbivores, thus reducing predation pressure on medium sized mammals and total grazing pressure. But the role of dingoes in Australian ecosystems is obviously not yet fully understood by the general public and a raging debate pits pastoralists and supportive state agencies against those
engaged in Dingo conservation and research.

Meanwhile, pure Dingo lines are being exterminated and Australia’s record of extinctions keeps rising.

The fact is, since the Europeans first settled in Australia in the late 1700’s the Australian continent has suffered the world's highest rate of mammal extinctions, with 27 species and subspecies lost. Many more species have declined and are by now at the brink of extinction, especially in arid and semi-arid parts of the continent.

The Dingo (Canis lupus dingo), itself introduced some 4,000 years ago, is now Australia’s Apex Predator and the presence of top predators are known to indirectly protect many species of prey from excessive predation. Indeed, in his excellent 2006 book, Australia’s Mammal Extinctions: A 50,000 Year History, Chris Johnson of James Cook University makes a case for the role of
feral cats in causing extinctions. He concludes that, “with the exception of the toolache wallaby, cats and foxes can account for practically all of the mammal extinctions of the last two hundred years.”

Studies have repeatedly shown that the rarity of Dingoes is a critical factor allowing these smaller predators to overwhelm marsupial prey, triggering extinctions over much of the continent.

Despite the research, virtually all of Australia’s State Governments as well as the country’s huge pastoralist lobby continue to ignorantly support the wholesale extermination of the Dingo using lethal means of every kind including aerial baiting with Compound 1080. This is the case even though the Dingo has by now been declared endangered in Victoria, AU and will soon be elsewhere.

Read Adam O'Neill's book, Living with Dingoes. I recommend it highly.

 

A Section of the Dingo Fence

[ See how far this fence extends! ]

Backlite profile of a Dingo on the beach at Fraser Island

 


References:

Ronald Strahan, A Photographic Guide to Mammals of Australia, The Australian Museum and New Holland Publishers, Ltd., 1995.

**Dingo, Canis lupus dingo - bookmark a new research site to be active in the near future: www.dingoconsortium.net

**Adam O'Neill, Living with the Dingo, Envirobook, ISBN: 0 85881 198 7, Annandale, NSW, AU, 2002 (purchase from www.abebooks.com)

**Dingo Discovery Centre and Research Center, Toolern Vale Victoria, AU - http://www.dingodiscovery.net

Laurie Corbett, The Dingo in Australia and Asia, Australian Natural History Series, University of New South Wales Press, 1995.

 



 

 

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