The Dingo (Canis dingo) is a wild carnivorous predator canid originated in Australia although reports show that this predator was also found in other Southeast Asian countries. Over centuries it earned the reputation of a pest in its native land and became the reason for the construction of the longest fence on the earth, which was built to protect the local livestock from its attacks. Today the pure-blooded dingo faces the threat of complete extinction and has very uncertain future.
Photo: © Lyn Watson, Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Centre
The Dingo is believed to have descended from the Arabian or Pale-footed wolf and have come to existence circa 5 000 years ago. Nowadays it’s closely associated with Australia although anthropogenic fossils and molecular proofs testify that this wild dog has had much broader natural habitat. The progenitors of the modern-day Dingo were tamed by the nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes and with subsequent development of agriculture they followed their masters to various parts of the world. The fossilised remains of Dingos, which is older than 5 000 years, were unearthed in Thailand and the findings in Vietnam were assessed to be about 5 500 years old. The age of canine skeletons found in Indonesian highlands numbers are about 2 500 to 3 000 years.
According to a widespread theory first semi-wild dogs had arrived to Australia with the nomadic people before it separated from the mainland in the wake of the last Ice Age. The Dingo originally belonged to Australian aborigines but gradually grew wild and spread all over this region. Both European colonists and indigenous people treated it tolerably and occasionally used it as companion animals and hunting dogs. Humans supplied their semi-domesticated pets with food and shelter.
Nonetheless with the introduction of the sheep-breeding to this area the number of feral dogs expanded dramatically. The Dingo gradually turned into a main predator in Australia and its massive killing was sanctioned to keep its population at bay. From 30s of XX century this dog was officially declared a vermin and the well-known Dingo fence was erected to defend grazing sheep and other domestic animals.
There is a science-based organisation whose primary goal is breeding pure-blooded Dingoes. In its attempt to save this unique wild species the Australian Dingo Conservation Association (ADCA) cooperates closely with Dr. Alan Wilton who is able to genetically discern pure dingoes in the wild and in captivity. The selection of animals for the ADCA’s breeding program is based exclusively on the principle of genetic diversity. Modern genetic tests provide a 99% level of likelihood and can be conducted on live Dingoes. Thanks to such accuracy the ADCA can be absolutely positive about the quality of its breeding animals.
The great contribution of the ADCA to the maintaining population of pure dingoes was acknowledged by the Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (ARAZPA). In 2002 this organisation handed over its function of keeping the Dingo’s studbook to the ADCA. This official acceptance strengthened the authority of the ADCA and allowed it to invite to the Dingo research many new scientists.
Presently the Dingo can be rightly ascribed to an endangered species of animals since less than 20% of today’s Australian wild dogs are actually purebred Dingos. The degree of hybridization significantly varies from area to area and mostly depends on the seclusion of the existing dingo packs. With the development of the touristic industry the distant regions became much more accessible for travellers than previously. So domestic canines have fewer problems with penetration into the remotest parts of this land and it inevitably led to the intensification of hybridization. The last place where the Dingo can feel itself comparatively safe is Fraser Island. Nonetheless the third of its population has been culled because it may scare away lots of tourists who attend the island each year.
Furthermore there is a considerable controversy about the status of the Dingo in various regions of Australian and it seriously complicates its recognition as endangered by the IUCN. For example, the Dingo is considered to be a pest in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. The Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory declared the Dingo a native animal, but New South Wales reckons it as a canine, despite it being a wolf.
Lots of zoological organisations also take steps to increase the overall awareness about this problem. They educate common people about the habits of the dingo and its fundamental differences from domestic dogs. This practice helps to reduce the amount of pure Dingoes that had been adopted as pets and subsequently end up their lives on the street. Today the fate of this animal equally depends on the efforts of the ADCA and public attitude to this rare and legendary wolf-like dog.
The Dingo is a primitive dog and it highly resembles a wolf in its behavioural patterns. If you are a big lover of exotic animals and dream of adopting one of these canines as a family pet, get prepared to devote lots of attention to its training and socialisation. They must be initiated when the puppy is about six weeks old. Correctly socialised Dingo will treat its human masters as members of its pack and can even be kept in the families with older kids.
The Dingo is notoriously famous for its aloofness towards strangers. Moreover this initial suspiciousness quickly develops into an outright aggression if the dog senses the slightest danger to its human pack. However this wild dog is far from vicious or ferocious and has a flight rather than attack individuality. Be mindful though that no amount of training can ensure its friendliness towards unfamiliar dogs and non-canine animals. That’s why it must always be securely leashed and muzzled in public places.