Dingo, Dingo

Reflections of a Dingo at Johnston Lakes, Goldfields, WA by Alan Carmichael

Last year I blogged about whether dingos were Australian, due to their (relatively) recent arrival in Australia from Asia. The Complete Book of Australian Mammals includes dingos (Canis lupus ssp. dingo) in the Introduced Mammals section [1]. The Introduced Species Summary Project of Columbia University also lists dingos, but describes them as “a near-native species of Australia” and details conservation measures needed to protect the species [2]. The Federal government lists the dingo as native fauna and they’re protected in National Parks, World Heritage areas, Aboriginal reserves and the ACT [3].

Indigenous Australians arrived in Australia 50,000 years ago and dingos were thought to have arrived with them [2], but it’s now believed they arrived more recently with Asian seafarers [4]. In 1983 the oldest dingo fossil was an almost complete skeleton aged about 3,000 years [1], although more recent fossil and archaeological evidence dates their arrival around 3,500 years ago [2] (improved carbon dating techniques and new fossil finds lead to amendments in the date of arrival).

Dingos never got to Tasmania because they arrived later than 14,000 years, when Bass Strait formed [1]. The lack of competition from dingos in Tasmania led to survival of thylacines (Thylacinus cynocephalus) and Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii), but not on the mainland. European settlers proceeded to kill all the thylacines* [5] and almost all Tasmania’s Indigenous Australians [6]. Tasmanian devils are currently in danger of extinction due to facial tumour disease [7].

dingo on the look out at the Territory Wildlife Park

I love dogs, so of course I love dingos. I also love wolves (Canis lupus), but I know a wolf in Australia would be so wrong and cause enormous havoc. Along with the first Indigenous Australians, dingos wrought enormous change on the flora, fauna and landscape of Australia – a very different Australia to one we know. Both people and dingos contributed to these changes, but other factors such as Ice Ages may have also played a part. Since European settlers arrived 200 years ago we’ve probably done more damage.

Dingos occur throughout Australia, except Tasmania, although many populations include hybrid wild dogs.

Pure dingoes are common in northern, northwestern and central regions, rare in southern and north-eastern regions, and probably extinct in the south-eastern and south-western regions. [3]

dingo panting in the Top End heat at the Territory Wildlife Park

There are two strains of dingo: the alpine type which is short, stocky and more fluffy, and the tropical or arid type. The larger populations of pure wild dingos in the northern, northwestern and central regions are of the tropical or arid type. They have long legs for speed and are leaner for endurance over the vast distances they roam. They can also go without water for much longer.

While pure dingos are genetically different to domestic dogs, breeding with wild or domestic dogs produces viable offspring. Dingos are listed as a vulnerable species in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The biggest threat to the species is hybridization with dogs, contributing to the loss of the pure dingo strain [3]. The Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Centre says,

Purity is doomed in the wild, unless a safe reserve can be found for them which is free of hybrid wild dogs.

Dingos have always been considered a pest by famers due to attacks on sheep and young cattle [4]. They are killed for this reason and the longest fence in the world (8,500 km) was built from SA to Qld in an attempt to keep dingos from grazing lands in south eastern Australia [1]. I knew a horse breeder who had a dingo cross. She was a beautiful dog, but could escape from anywhere. Due to the neighbouring farmer threatening to shoot her the next time he saw her, she wore a horse bit attached to her collar to slow her down, so she would be less likely to wander near his sheep and rifle.

Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Centre

Many native animals can be privately owned (from captive breeding) with a permit from the State government. In WA this does not cover pure dingos, private ownership is not allowed. The Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Centre in Victoria breeds pure dingos from their colony which represents an unbroken genetic line from the neolithic canid that first crossed the domestic threshold (the DNA is tested by the UNSW). People in Victoria, NSW, NT** or the ACT can buy a dingo pup from the Sanctuary, but this entails a lot more commitment than getting a mutt from the pound or buying a pure bred domestic dog.

Dingos need their bonded humans, other pets and familiar surroundings for their lifetime. They cannot be successfully boarded out, or re-homed. Your commitment must therefore be seriously considered, and for the life of your dingo which may well be 18 years.

Sponsor a Dingo

An easier way to have your own is to Sponsor a Dingo from the Sanctuary or make a Donation to the Australian Dingo Foundation. The Foundation is committed to ensuring conservation of the pure dingo through the Sanctuary and ongoing research. You can also donate through the WA Dingo Association.

=^.^=

Notes

* Rounsevell contends it may not have been only hunting which led to the thylacine’s extinction. An epidemic at the turn of the 20th century decimated the population of Tasmanian devils, and quolls on the mainland, and may have contributed to the thylacine’s extinction [5].

** The Sanctuary consists mostly of the alpine type (of which there are less in the wild), but dingos in the NT are of the tropical type. The Sanctuary’s breeding program keeps the two strains separate.

Credits

Reflections of a Dingo at Johnston Lakes, Goldfields, WA by Alan Carmichael. Thank you to Alan for explaining the differences between the alpine and arid dingos. I assumed arid and tropical dingos are the same strain, but if I got this wrong, it’s not Alan’s fault :P

Thank you to Dimitrije Nikic for telling me about the Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Centre in Victoria. He has some amazing photos of his dingo mates at the Sanctuary.

References

  1. Newsome, A.E. (1983) “Dingo” in Strahan (Ed.) The Australian Museum Complete Book of Australian Mammals: The National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife. Sydney: Angus & Robertson. pp.483-485.
  2. Garrish, Amelia (2005) Dingo Canis lupus dingo in Introduced Species Summary Project. New York: Columbia University.
  3. Corbett, L.K. (2008) Canis lupus ssp. dingo. In: IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.1. <http://www.iucnredlist.org/&gt; Downloaded 2 August 2009.
  4. Thomson, Peter (2008) Dingo Farmnote 133/2000. WA Department of Agriculture.
  5. Rounsevell, D.E. (1983) “Thylacine” in Strahan (Ed.) The Australian Museum Complete Book of Australian Mammals: The National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife. Sydney: Angus & Robertson. pp.81-83.
  6. Onsman, Andrys (2004) “Truganini’s FuneralIsland Magazine no.96, p.39-52.
  7. Tasmanian Dept of Primary Industries and Water (2009) Devil Facial Tumour Disease.

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