|A male dingo|
C. l. dingo
|Canis lupus dingo|
|Distribution of dingoes and hybrids|
The dingo is a dog that is native to Australia. The species name is debated: it is variously called Canis familiaris, Canis familiaris dingo, Canis lupus dingo, or Canis dingo. It is either a purebred, if breeding only in the wild, or a hybrid of a dingo and a domesticated dog. It is a medium-sized canid that possesses a lean, hardy body adapted for speed, agility, and stamina. The dingo's three main coat colours are: light ginger or tan, black and tan, or creamy white. The skull, the widest part of the dingo, is wedge-shaped and large in proportion to the body. It differs from that of the domestic dog by its larger palatal width, longer rostrum, shorter skull height, and wider sagittal crest.
The earliest known dingo fossil, found in Western Australia, dates to 3,450 years ago, which led to the presumption that dingoes came to Australia with seafarers prior to that time. Dingo morphology has not changed over the past 3,500 years: this suggests that no artificial selection has been applied over this period.
The dingo is closely related to the New Guinea singing dog: their lineage split early from the lineage that led to today's domestic dogs, and can be traced back through the Malay Archipelago to Asia. A recent genetic study shows that the lineage of those dingoes found today in the northwestern part of the Australian continent split from the lineage of the New Guinea singing dog and southeastern dingo 6,300 BC, followed by a split between the New Guinea singing dog lineage from the southeastern dingo lineage 5,800 BC. The study proposes that two dingo migrations occurred when sea levels were lower and Australia and New Guinea formed one landmass named Sahul that existed until 6,500–8,000 years ago. Seafarers from south-west Sulawesi in modern-day Indonesia may have brought the dingo to northern Australia.
The dingo's habitat covers most of Australia, but they are completely absent in the southwest, a strip on the eastern coast, and an area on the southwest coast (see map). Dingos prey on mammals up to the size of the large red kangaroo, in addition to birds, reptiles, fish, crabs, frogs, insects, and seeds. The dingo's competitors include the native quoll, the introduced European red fox and the feral cat. A dingo pack usually consists of a mated pair, their offspring from the current year, and sometimes offspring from the previous year.
The first British colonists who settled at Port Jackson in 1788 recorded dingoes living with indigenous Australians. When livestock farming began expanding across Australia in the early 19th century, dingos began preying on sheep and cattle. Numerous population-control measures have been implemented since then, with only limited success. The dingo is recognised as a native animal under the laws of all Australian jurisdictions. It is listed as a "vulnerable species" on the IUCN Red List due to declining numbers.
The dingo plays a prominent role in the Dreamtime stories of indigenous Australians; however, it rarely appears depicted in their cave paintings when compared with the extinct thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian wolf.
- 1 Etymology, synonyms, and usage
- 2 Taxonomy
- 3 Phylogeny
- 4 Characteristics
- 5 Adaptation
- 6 Communication
- 7 Behaviour
- 8 Impact
- 9 Legal status
- 10 Control measures
- 11 Conservation of purebreds
- 12 See also
- 13 References
- 14 Bibliography
- 15 External links
Etymology, synonyms, and usage
The name "dingo" comes from the Dharug language used by the Indigenous Australians of the Sydney area. The first British colonists to arrive in Australia in 1788 established a settlement at Port Jackson and noted "dingoes" living with indigenous Australians. The name was first recorded in 1789 by Watkin Tench in his Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay:
The only domestic animal they have is the dog, which in their language is called Dingo, and a good deal resembles the fox dog of England. These animals are equally shy of us, and attached to the natives. One of them is now in the possession of the Governor, and tolerably well reconciled to his new master.
The variants include "tin-go" for a bitch, "din-go" for a dog, and "wo-ri-gal" for a big dog. The dingo has been given different names in the Indigenous Australian languages, including "boolomo, dwer-da, joogoong, kal, kurpany, maliki, mirigung, noggum, papa-inura, and wantibirri. Some authors propose that a difference existed between camp dingoes and wild dingoes as they had different names among indigenous tribes. The people of the Yarralin, Northern Territory region frequently call those dingoes that live with them walaku, and those that live in the wilderness ngurakin. They also use the name walaku to refer to both dingoes and dogs. The colonial settlers of New South Wales wrote using the name dingo only for camp dogs. It is proposed that in New South Wales the camp dingoes only became wild after the collapse of Aboriginal society.
Dogs associated with natives were first recorded by Jan Carstenszoon in the Cape York Peninsula area in 1623. In 1699, Captain William Dampier visited the coast of what is now Western Australia and recorded that "...my men saw two or three beasts like hungry wolves, lean like so many skeletons, being nothing but skin and bones...". In 1788, the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay under the command of Australia's first colonial governor, Arthur Phillip, who took ownership of a dingo and in his journal made a brief description with an illustration of the "Dog of New South Wales". In 1793, based on Phillip's brief description and illustration, the "Dog of New South Wales" was classified by Friedrich Meyer as Canis dingo.
In 1999, a study of mitochondrial DNA indicated that the domestic dog may have originated from multiple grey wolf populations, with the dingo and New Guinea singing dog "breeds" having developed at a time when human populations were more isolated from each other. In the third edition of Mammal Species of the World published in 2005, the mammalogist W. Christopher Wozencraft listed under the wolf Canis lupus its wild subspecies, and proposed two additional subspecies: "familiaris Linneaus, 1758 [domestic dog]" and "dingo Meyer, 1793 [domestic dog]". Wozencraft included hallstromi - the New Guinea singing dog - as a taxonomic synonym for the dingo. Wozencraft referred to the mDNA study as one of the guides in forming his decision. The inclusion of familiaris and dingo under a "domestic dog" clade has been noted by other mammalogists. This classification by Wozencraft is debated among zoologists.
The dingo is regarded as a feral dog because it descended from domesticated ancestors. The dingo's relationship with indigenous Australians is one of commensalism, in which two organisms live in close association, but do not depend on each other for survival. They both hunt and sleep together. The dingo is, therefore, comfortable enough around humans to associate with them, but is still capable of living independently. Any free-ranging, unowned dog can be socialised to become an owned dog, as some dingoes do when they join human families. Although the dingo exists in the wild, it associates with humans, but has not been selectively bred similarly to other domesticated animals. Therefore, its status as a domestic animal is not clear. Whether the dingo was a wild or domesticated species was not clarified from Meyer's original description, which translated from the German language ambiguously reads:
It is not known if it is the only dog species in New South Wales, and if it can also still be found in the wild state; however, so far it appears to have lost little of its wild condition; moreover, no divergent varieties have been discovered.
The oldest reliable date for dog remains found in mainland Southeast Asia is from Vietnam at 4,000 years YBP, and in island southeast Asia from Timor-Leste at 3,000 YBP. The earliest dingo remains in the Torres Straits date to 2,100 YBP. In New Guinea, the earliest dog remains date to 2,500–2,300 YBP from Caution Bay near Port Moresby, but no ancient New Guinea singing dog remains have been found.
The earliest dingo skeletal remains in Australia are estimated at 3,450 YBP from the Mandura Caves on the Nullarbor Plain, south-eastern Western Australia; 3,320 YBP from Woombah Midden near Woombah, New South Wales; and 3,170 YBP from Fromme's Landing on the Murray River near Mannum, South Australia. Dingo bone fragments were found in a rock shelter located at Mount Burr, South Australia, in a layer that was originally dated 7,000-8,500 YBP. Excavations later indicated that the levels had been disturbed, and the dingo remains "probably moved to an earlier level." The dating of these early Australian dingo fossils led to the widely held belief that dingoes first arrived in Australia 4,000 YBP and then took 500 years to disperse around the continent. However, the timing of these skeletal remains was based on the dating of the sediments in which they were discovered, and not the specimens themselves.
In 2018, the oldest skeletal bones from the Madura Caves were directly carbon dated between 3,348 and 3,081 YBP, providing firm evidence of the earliest dingo and that dingoes arrived later than had previously been proposed. The next-most reliable timing is based on desiccated flesh dated 2,200 YBP from Thylacine Hole, 110 km west of Eucla on the Nullarbor Plain, southeastern Western Australia. When dingoes first arrived, they would have been taken up by indigenous Australians, who then provided a network for their swift transfer around the continent. Based on the recorded distribution time for dogs across Tasmania and cats across Australia once indigenous Australians had acquired them, the dispersal of dingoes from their point of landing until they occupied continental Australia is proposed to have taken only 70 years. The red fox is estimated to have dispersed across the continent in only 60–80 years.
At the end of the last glacial maximum and the associated rise in sea levels, Tasmania became separated from the Australian mainland 12,000 YBP, and New Guinea 6,500–8,500 YBP by the inundation of the Sahul Shelf. Fossil remains in Australia date to around 3,500 YBP and no dingo remains have been uncovered in Tasmania, so the dingo is estimated to have arrived in Australia at a time between 3,500 and 12,000 YBP. To reach Australia through the Malay Archipelago even at the lowest sea level of the last glacial maximum, a journey of at least 50 km over open sea between ancient Sunda and Sahul was necessary, so they must have accompanied humans on boats.
Based on a comparison with these early fossils, dingo morphology has not changed over thousands of years. This suggests that no artificial selection has been applied over this period and that the dingo represents an early form of dog. They have lived, bred, and undergone natural selection in the wild, isolated from other canines until the arrival of European settlers, resulting in a unique canid.
In 1999, a study of mitochondrial DNA indicated that the domestic dog may have originated from multiple grey wolf populations, with the dingo and New Guinea singing dog "breeds" having developed at a time when human populations were more isolated from each other. In the third edition of Mammal Species of the World published in 2005, mammalogist W. Christopher Wozencraft listed under the wolf Canis lupus its wild subspecies, and proposed two additional subspecies: "familiaris Linneaus, 1758 [domestic dog]" and "dingo Meyer, 1793 [domestic dog]". Wozencraft included hallstromi - the New Guinea singing dog - as a taxonomic synonym for the dingo. Wozencraft referred to the mDNA study as one of the guides in forming his decision. The inclusion of familiaris and dingo under a "domestic dog" clade has been noted by other mammalogists. This classification by Wozencraft is debated among zoologists.
Whole genome sequencing indicates the dog to be a genetically divergent subspecies of the grey wolf, the dog is not a descendant of the extant grey wolf, but these are sister taxa which share a common ancestor from a ghost population of wolves that went extinct at the end of the Late Pleistocene, and the dog and the dingo are not separate species. The dingo and the Basenji are basal members of the domestic dog clade. "The term basal taxon refers to a lineage that diverges early in the history of the group and lies on a branch that originates near the common ancestor of the group." Mitochondrial genome sequences indicates that the dingo falls within the domestic dog clade, and that the New Guinea singing dog is genetically closer to those dingoes that live in southeastern Australia than to those that live in the northwest. The dingo and New Guinea singing dog lineage can be traced back through the Malay Archipelago to Asia. Gene flow from the genetically divergent Tibetan wolf forms 2% of the dingo's genome, which likely represents ancient admixture in eastern Eurasia.
The dingo is a medium-sized canid with a lean, hardy body that is designed for speed, agility, and stamina. The head is the widest part of the body, wedge-shaped, and large in proportion to the body. Captive dingoes are longer and heavier than wild dingoes, as they have access to better food and veterinary care. The average wild dingo male weighs 15.8 kg (35 lb) and the female 14.1 kg (31 lb), compared with the captive male 18.9 kg (42 lb) and the female 16.2 kg (36 lb). The average wild dingo male length is 125 cm (49 in) and the female 122 cm (48 in), compared with the captive male 136 cm (54 in) and the female 133 cm (52 in). The average wild dingo male stands at the shoulder height of 59 cm (23 in) and the female 56 cm (22 in), compared with the captive male 56 cm (22 in) and the female 53 cm (21 in). Dingoes rarely carry excess fat and the wild ones display exposed ribs. Dingoes from northern and northwestern Australia are often larger than those found in central and southern Australia. The dingo is similar to the New Guinea singing dog in morphology apart from the dingo's greater height at the withers.
Early studies identified the skull as being more like that of the golden jackal than it is to the wolf or coyote. Compared with the skull of the dog, the dingo possesses a longer muzzle, longer carnassial teeth, longer and more slender canine teeth, larger auditory bullae, a flatter cranium with a larger sagittal crest, and larger nuchal lines. In 2014, a study was conducted on pre-20th century dingo specimens that are unlikely to have been influenced by later hybridisation. The dingo skull was found to differ relative to the domestic dog by its larger palatal width, longer rostrum, shorter skull height, and wider sagittal crest. Based on a comparison with the remains of a dingo found at Fromme's Landing, the dingo's skull and skeleton have not changed over the past 3,000 years. Compared to the wolf, the dingo possesses a paedomorphic cranium similar to domestic dogs. However, the dingo has a larger brain size compared to dogs of the same body weight, with the dingo being more comparable with the wolf than dogs are. In this respect, the dingo resembles two similar mesopredators, the dhole and the coyote. The eyes are triangular (or almond-shaped) and are hazel to dark in colour with dark rims. The ears are erect and occur high on the skull.
The dingo's three main coat colours are described as being light ginger (or tan), black and tan, and creamy white. The ginger colour ranges from a deep rust to a pale cream and can be found in 74% of dingoes. Often, small white markings are seen on the tip of the tail, the feet, and the chest, but with no large white patches. Some do not exhibit white tips. The black and tan dingoes possess a black coat with a tan muzzle, chest, belly, legs, and feet and can be found in 12% of dingoes. Solid white can be found in 2% of dingoes and solid black 1%. Coat colours with sable, ticking, or brindle indicate some hybridisation and can be found in 12% of dingoes. Only three genes affect coat colour in the dingo compared with nine genes in the domestic dog. The ginger colour is dominant and carries the other three main colours - black, tan, and white. White dingoes breed true, and black and tan dingoes breed true; when these cross, the result is a sandy colour. The coat is not oily, nor does not have a dog-like odour. The dingo has a single coat in the tropical north of Australia and a double thick coat in the cold mountains of the south, the undercoat being a wolf-grey colour.
The dingo's tail is flatish, tapering after mid-length and does not curve over the back, but is carried low.
Dingoes in the wild live 3–5 years with few living past 7–8 years. Some have been recorded living up to 10 years. In captivity, they live for 14–16 years. One dingo has been recorded to live just under 20 years.
Hybrids, distribution and habitat
The wolf-like canids are a group of large carnivores that are genetically closely related because their chromosomes number 78, therefore they can potentially interbreed to produce fertile hybrids. In the Australian wild there exist dingoes, feral dogs, and the crossings of these two, which produce dingo-dog hybrids. Most studies looking at the distribution of dingoes focus on the distribution of dingo-dog hybrids, instead.
Dingoes occurred throughout mainland Australia before European settlement. They are not found in the fossil record of Tasmania, so they apparently arrived in Australia after Tasmania had separated from the mainland due to rising sea levels. The introduction of agriculture reduced dingo distribution, and by the early 1900s, large barrier fences, including the Dingo Fence, excluded them from the sheep-grazing areas. Land clearance, poisoning, and trapping caused the extinction of the dingo and hybrids from most of their former range in southern Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. Today, they are absent from most of New South Wales, Victoria, the southeastern third of South Australia, and the southwestern tip of Western Australia. They are sparse in the eastern half of Western Australia and the adjoining areas of the Northern Territory and South Australia. They are regarded as common across the remainder of the continent.
The dingo could be considered an ecotype or an ecospecies that has adapted to Australia's unique environment. The dingo's present distribution covers a variety of habitats, including the temperate regions of eastern Australia, the alpine moorlands of the eastern highlands, the arid hot deserts of Central Australia, and the tropical forests and wetlands of Northern Australia. The occupation of, and adaption to, these habitats may have been assisted by their relationship with indigenous Australians.
A 20-year study of the dingo's diet was conducted across Australia by the federal and state governments. These examined a total of 13,000 stomach contents and fecal samples. For the fecal samples, determining the matching tracks of foxes and feral cats was possible without including these samples in the study, but in distinguishing between the tracks left by dingoes and those of dingo hybrids or feral dogs was impossible. The study found that these canines prey on 177 species represented by 72.3% mammals (71 species), 18.8% birds (53 species), 3.3% vegetation (seeds), 1.8% reptiles (23 species), and 3.8% insects, fish, crabs, and frogs (28 species). The relative proportions of prey are much the same across Australia, apart from more birds being eaten in the north and south-east coastal regions, and more lizards in Central Australia. Some 80% of the diet consisted of 10 species: red kangaroo, swamp wallaby, cattle, dusky rat, magpie goose, common brushtail possum, long-haired rat, agile wallaby, European rabbit, and common wombat. Of the mammals eaten, 20% could be regarded as large.
However, the relative proportions of the size of prey mammals varied across regions. In the tropical coast region of the Northern Territory, agile wallabies, dusky rats, and magpie geese formed 80% of the diet. In Central Australia, the rabbit has become a substitute for native mammals, and during droughts, cattle carcasses provide most of the diet. On the Barkly Tableland, no rabbits occur nor does any native species dominate the diet, except for long-haired rats that form plagues every 9 years. In the Fortescue River region, the large red kangaroo and euro dominate the diet as few smaller mammals are in this area. On the Nullarbor Plain, rabbits and red kangaroos dominate the diet, and twice as much rabbit eaten as red kangaroo. In the temperate mountains of eastern Australia, swamp wallaby and red-necked wallaby dominate the diet on the lower slopes and wombat on the higher slopes. Possums are commonly eaten here when found on the ground. In coastal regions, dingoes patrol the beaches for washed-up fish, seals, penguins, and other birds.
Dingoes drink about a litre of water each day in the summer and half a litre in winter. In arid regions during the winter, dingoes may live from the liquid in the bodies of their prey, as long as the number of prey is sufficient. In arid Central Australia, weaned pups draw most of their water from their food. There, regurgitation of water by the females for the pups was observed. During lactation, captive females have no higher need of water than usual, since they consume the urine and feces of the pups, thus recycling the water and keeping the den clean. Tracked dingoes in the Strzelecki Desert regularly visited water-points every 3–5 days, with two dingoes surviving 22 days without water during both winter and summer.
Dingoes, dingo hybrids, and feral dogs usually attack from the rear as they pursue their prey. They kill their prey by biting the throat, which damages the trachea and the major blood vessels of the neck. The size of the hunting pack is determined by the type of prey targeted, with large packs formed to help hunt large prey. Large prey can include kangaroos, cattle, water buffalo, and feral horses. Dingoes will assess and target prey based on the prey's ability to inflict damage on dingoes. Large kangaroos are the most commonly killed prey. The main tactic is to sight the kangaroo, bail it up, then kill it. Dingoes typically hunt large kangaroos by having lead dingoes chase the quarry toward the paths of their pack mates, which are skilled at cutting corners in chases. The kangaroo becomes exhausted and is then killed. This same tactic is used by wolves, African wild dogs, and hyenas. Another tactic shared with African wild dogs is a relay pursuit until the prey is exhausted. A pack of dingoes is three times as likely to bring down a kangaroo than an individual because the killing is done by those following the lead chaser, which has also become exhausted. Two patterns are seen for the final stage of the attack. An adult or juvenile kangaroo is nipped at the hamstrings of the hind legs to slow it before an attack to the throat. A small adult female or juvenile is bitten on the neck or back by dingoes running beside it. In one area of Central Australia, dingoes hunt kangaroos by chasing them into a wire fence, where they become temporarily immobilised. The largest male red kangaroos tend to ignore dingoes, even when the dingoes are hunting the younger males and females. A large eastern grey kangaroo successfully fought off an attack by a single dingo that lasted over an hour. Wallabies are hunted in a similar manner to kangaroos, the difference being that a single dingo hunts using scent rather than sight and the hunt may last several hours.
Dingo packs may attack young cattle and buffalo, but never healthy, grown adults. They focus on the sick or injured young. The tactics include harassing a mother with young, panicking a herd to separate the adults from the young, or watching a herd and looking for any unusual behaviour that might then be exploited. One 1992 study in the Fortescue River region observed that cattle defend their calves by circling around the calves or aggressively charging dingoes. In one study of 26 approaches, 24 were by more than one dingo and only four resulted in calves being killed. Dingoes often revisited carcasses. They did not touch fresh cattle carcasses until these were largely skin and bone, and even when these were plentiful, they still preferred to hunt kangaroos. Of 68 chases of sheep, 26 sheep were seriously injured, but only eight were killed. The dingoes could outrun the sheep and the sheep were defenceless. However, the dingoes in general appeared not to be motivated to kill sheep, and in many cases just loped alongside the sheep before veering off to chase another sheep. For those that did kill and consume sheep, a large quantity of kangaroo was still in their diet, indicating once again a preference for kangaroo.
Lone dingoes can run down a rabbit, but are more successful by targeting kittens near rabbit warrens. Dingoes take nestling birds, in addition to birds that are moulting and therefore cannot fly. Predators often use highly intelligent hunting techniques. Dingoes on Fraser Island have been observed using waves to entrap, tire, and help drown an adult swamp wallaby and an echidna. In the coastal wetlands of northern Australia, dingoes depend on magpie geese for a large part of their diet and a lone dingo sometimes distracts these while a white-breasted sea eagle makes a kill that is too heavy for it to carry off, with the dingo then driving the sea eagle away. They also scavenge on prey dropped from the nesting platforms of sea eagles. Lone dingoes may hunt small rodents and grasshoppers in grass by using their senses of smell and hearing, then pouncing on them with their forepaws.
Dingoes and their hybrids co-exist with the native quoll. They also co-occur in the same territory as the introduced European red fox and feral cat, but little is known about the relationships between these three. Dingoes and their hybrids can drive off foxes from sources of water and occasionally eat feral cats. Dingoes can be killed by buffalo and cattle goring and kicking them, from snake bite, and predation on their pups by wedge-tailed eagles.
Like all domestic dogs, dingoes tend towards phonetic communication. However, in contrast to domestic dogs, dingoes howl and whimper more, and bark less. Eight sound classes with 19 sound types have been identified.
Compared to most domestic dogs, the bark of a dingo is short and monosyllabic, and is rarely used. Barking was observed to make up only 5% of vocalisations. Dog barking has always been distinct from wolf barking. Australian dingoes bark mainly in swooshing noises or in a mixture of atonal and tonal sounds. In addition, barking is almost exclusively used for giving warnings. Warn-barking in a homotypical sequence and a kind of "warn-howling" in a heterotypical sequence have also been observed. The bark-howling starts with several barks and then fades into a rising and ebbing howl and is probably (similar to coughing) used to warn the puppies and members of the pack. Additionally, dingoes emit a sort of "wailing" sound, which they mostly use when approaching a watering hole, probably to warn already present dingoes.
According to the present state of knowledge, getting Australian dingoes to bark more frequently by putting them in contact with other domestic dogs is not possible. However, German zoologist Alfred Brehm reported a dingo that learned the more "typical" form of barking and how to use it, while its brother did not. Whether dingoes bark or bark-howl less frequently in general is not certain.
Dingoes have three basic forms of howling (moans, bark-howls, and snuffs) with at least 10 variations. Usually, three kinds of howls are distinguished: long and persistent, rising and ebbing, and short and abrupt.
Observations have shown that each kind of howling has several variations, though their purpose is unknown. The frequency of howling varies with the season and time of day, and is also influenced by breeding, migration, lactation, social stability, and dispersal behaviour. Howling can be more frequent in times of food shortage, because the dogs become more widely distributed within their home range.
Additionally, howling seems to have a group function, and is sometimes an expression of joy (for example, greeting-howls). Overall, howling was observed less frequently in dingoes than among grey wolves. It may happen that one dog will begin to howl, and several or all other dogs will howl back and bark from time to time. In the wilderness, dingoes howl over long distances to attract other members of the pack, to find other dogs, or to keep intruders at bay. Dingoes howl in chorus with significant pitches, and with increasing number of pack members, the variability of pitches also increases. Therefore, dingoes are suspected to be able to measure the size of a pack without visual contact. Moreover, their highly variable chorus howls have been proposed to generate a confounding effect in the receivers by making pack size appear larger.
Growling, making up about 65% of the vocalisations, is used in an agonistic context for dominance, and as a defensive sound. Similar to many domestic dogs, a reactive usage of defensive growling is only rarely observed. Growling very often occurs in combination with other sounds, and has been observed almost exclusively in swooshing noises (similar to barking).
During observations in Germany, dingoes were heard to produce a sound that observers have called Schrappen. It was only observed in an agonistic context, mostly as a defence against obtrusive pups or for defending resources. It was described as a bite intention, during which the receiver is never touched or hurt. Only a clashing of the teeth could be heard.
Aside from vocal communication, dingoes communicate, like all domestic dogs, via scent marking specific objects (for example, Spinifex) or places (such as waters, trails, and hunting grounds) using chemical signals from their urine, feces, and scent glands. Males scent mark more frequently than females, especially during the mating season. They also scent rub, whereby a dog rolls its neck, shoulders, or back on something that is usually associated with food or the scent markings of other dogs.
Unlike wolves, dingoes can react to social cues and gestures from humans.
Dingoes tend to be nocturnal in warmer regions, but less so in cooler areas. Their main period of activity is around dusk and dawn. The periods of activity are short (often less than 1 hour) with short times of resting. Dingoes have two kinds of movement: a searching movement (apparently associated with hunting) and an exploratory movement (probably for contact and communication with other dogs). According to studies in Queensland, the wild dogs (dingo hybrids) there move freely at night through urban areas and cross streets and seem to get along quite well.
The dingo's social behaviour is about as flexible as that of a coyote or grey wolf, which is perhaps one of the reasons the dingo was originally believed to have descended from the Indian wolf. While young males are often solitary and nomadic in nature, breeding adults often form a settled pack. However, in areas of the dingo's habitat with a widely spaced population, breeding pairs remain together, apart from others. Dingo distributions are a single dingo, 73%; two dingoes, 16%; three dingoes, 5%; four dingoes, 3%; and packs of five to seven dingoes, 3%. A dingo pack usually consists of a mated pair, their offspring from the current year, and sometimes offspring from the previous year.
Where conditions are favourable among dingo packs, the pack is stable with a distinct territory and little overlap between neighbours. The size of packs often appears to correspond to the size of prey available in the pack's territory. Desert areas have smaller groups of dingoes with a more loose territorial behaviour and sharing of the water sites. The average monthly pack size was noted to be between three and 12 members.
Similar to other canids, a dingo pack largely consists of a mated pair, their current year's offspring, and occasionally a previous year's offspring. Dominance hierarchies exist both between and within males and females, with males usually being more dominant than females. However, a few exceptions have been noted in captive packs. During travel, while eating prey, or when approaching a water source for the first time, the breeding male will be seen as the leader, or alpha. Subordinate dingoes approach a more dominant dog in a slightly crouched posture, ears flat, and tail down, to ensure peace in the pack. Establishment of artificial packs in captive dingoes has failed.
Dingoes breed once annually, depending on the estrous cycle of the females, which according to most sources, only come in heat once per year. Dingo females can come in heat twice per year, but can only be pregnant once a year, with the second time only seeming to be pregnant.
Males are virile throughout the year in most regions, but have a lower sperm production during the summer in most cases. During studies on dingoes from the Eastern Highlands and Central Australia in captivity, no specific breeding cycle could be observed. All were potent throughout the year. The breeding was only regulated by the heat of the females. A rise in testosterone was observed in the males during the breeding season, but this was attributed to the heat of the females and copulation. In contrast to the captive dingoes, captured dingo males from Central Australia did show evidence of a male breeding cycle. Those dingoes showed no interest in females in heat (this time other domestic dogs) outside of the mating season (January to July) and did not breed with them.
The mating season usually occurs in Australia between March and May (according to other sources between April and June). During this time, dingoes may actively defend their territories using vocalisations, dominance behaviour, growling, and barking.
Most females in the wild start breeding at the age of 2 years. Within packs, the alpha female tends to go into heat before subordinates and actively suppresses mating attempts by other females. Males become sexually mature between the ages of 1 and 3 years. The precise start of breeding varies depending on age, social status, geographic range, and seasonal conditions. Among dingoes in captivity, the pre-estrus was observed to last 10–12 days. However, the pre-estrus may last as long as 60 days in the wild.
In general, the only dingoes in a pack that successfully breed are the alpha pair, and the other pack members help with raising the pups. Subordinates are actively prevented from breeding by the alpha pair and some subordinate females have a false pregnancy. Low-ranking or solitary dingoes can successfully breed if the pack structure breaks up.
The gestation period lasts for 61–69 days and the size of the litter can range from one to 10 (usually five) pups, with the number of males born tending to be higher than that of females. Pups of subordinate females usually get killed by the alpha female, which causes the population increase to be low even in good times. This behaviour possibly developed as an adaptation to the fluctuating environmental conditions in Australia. Pups are usually born between May and August (the winter period), but in tropical regions, breeding can occur at any time of the year.
At the age of 3 weeks, the pups leave the den for the first time, and leave it completely at 8 weeks. In Australia, dens are mostly underground. Reports exist of dens in abandoned rabbit burrows, rock formations, under boulders in dry creeks, under large spinifex, in hollow logs, and augmented burrows of monitor lizards and wombat burrows. The pups usually stray around the den within a radius of 3 km (2 mi), and are accompanied by older dogs during longer travels. The transition to consuming solid food is normally accompanied by all members of the pack during the age of 9 to 12 weeks. Apart from their own experiences, pups also learn through observation. Young dingoes usually become independent at the age of 3–6 months or they disperse at the age of 10 months, when the next mating season starts.
Dingoes usually remain in one area and do not undergo seasonal migrations. However, during times of famine, even in normally "safe" areas, dingoes travel into pastoral areas, where intensive, human-induced control measures are undertaken. In Western Australia in the 1970s, young dogs were found to travel for long distances when necessary. About 10% of the dogs captured—all younger than 12 months—were later recaptured far away from their first location. Among these, 10% of the travelled distance for males was 21.7 km (13.5 mi) and for females 11 km (7 mi). Therefore, travelling dingoes had lower chances of survival in foreign territories, and they are apparently unlikely to survive long migrations through occupied territories. The rarity of long migration routes seemed to confirm this. During investigations in the Nullarbor Plain, even longer migration routes were recorded. The longest recorded migration route of a radio-collared dingo was about 24–32 km (15–20 mi).
Attacks on humans
Dingoes generally avoid conflict with humans, but they are large enough to be dangerous. Most attacks involve people feeding wild dingoes, particularly on Fraser Island, which is a special centre of dingo-related tourism. The vast majority of dingo attacks are minor in nature, but some can be major, and a few have been fatal. The death of 2-month-old Azaria Chamberlain in the Northern Territory in 1980 is one of the best-known cases. Many Australian national parks have signs advising visitors not to feed wildlife, partly because this practice is not healthy for the animals, and partly because it may encourage undesirable behaviour, such as snatching or biting by dingoes, kangaroos, goannas, and some birds.
Extinction of thylacines
Some researchers propose that the dingo caused the extinction of the thylacine, the Tasmanian devil, and the Tasmanian native hen from mainland Australia because of the correlation in space and time with the dingo's arrival. Recent studies have questioned this proposal, suggesting that climate change and increasing human populations may have been the cause. Dingoes do not seem to have had the same ecological impact that the red fox had in later times. This might be connected to the dingo's way of hunting and the size of their favoured prey, as well as to the low number of dingoes in the time before European colonisation.
The assumption that dingoes and thylacines were competitors for the same prey stems from their external similarities; the thylacine had a stronger and more efficient bite, but was probably dependent on relatively small prey, while the dingo's stronger skull and neck would have allowed it to bring down larger prey. The dingo was probably a superior hunter, as it hunted cooperatively in packs and could better defend resources, while the thylacine was probably more solitary. Also, wild dingo populations might have had demographic support from conspecific living with humans.
The extinction of the thylacine on the continent around 2,000 years ago has also been linked to changes in climate and land use by the Aborigines. Naming the dingo as the cause of the extinction is plausible, but significant morphological differences between the two suggest that the ecological overlapping of both species might be exaggerated. The dingo has the dentition of a generalist, while the thylacine had the dentition of a specialist carnivore without any signs of consumption of carrion or bones.
This theory does not explain how the Tasmanian devil and the dingo coexisted on the same continent until about 430 years ago, when the dingo supposedly caused the Tasmanian devil's demise. The group dynamics of dingoes should have successfully kept devils away from carrion, and since dingoes are able to break bones, little would have been left for the devils to scavenge. Additionally, devils are successful hunters of small- to medium-sized prey, so overlapping of the species should have occurred in this area, too. Furthermore, the arguments that the dingo caused the extinction of the thylacine, the devil, and the hen are in direct conflict with each other. If the dingo were really so similar to the thylacine and the Tasmanian devil in its ecological role and suppressed both, then coexisting with both for such an extended time is strange. Although this is a possible result of the dingo's introduction, critics regard the evidence for this as insubstantial.
In 2017, a genetic study found that the population of the northwestern dingoes had commenced expanding since 4,000—6,000 years ago. This was proposed to be due either to their first arrival in Australia or to the commencement of the extinction of the thylacine, with the dingo expanding into the thylacine's former range.
Interactions with humans
Dogs associated with natives were first recorded by Jan Carstenszoon in the Cape York Peninsula area in 1623. In 1699, Captain William Dampier visited the coast of what is now Western Australia and recorded that "...my men saw two or three beasts like hungry wolves, lean like so many skeletons, being nothing but skin and bones...". In 1788, the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay under the command of Australia's first colonial governor, Arthur Phillip, who took ownership of a dingo and in his journal made a brief description with an illustration of the "Dog of New South Wales". In 1793, based on Phillip's brief description and illustration, the "Dog of New South Wales" was classified by Friedrich Meyer as Canis dingo.
In 1976, the Australian Native Dog Training Society of NSW Ltd. was founded but has now ceased. In 1994, the Australian National Kennel Council recognised a dingo breed standard within its Hounds group. The dingo is not recognised as a dog breed by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale.
Dingoes can be very tame when they come in frequent contact with humans. Furthermore, some dingoes live with humans (due to practical, as well as emotional reasons). Many indigenous Australians and early European settlers lived alongside dingoes. Indigenous Australians would take dingo pups from the den and tame them until sexual maturity and the dogs would leave. Alfred Brehm reported cases where dingoes were completely tame and, in some cases, behaved exactly like other domestic dogs (one was used for shepherding heavy livestock), as well as specimens that remained wild and shy. He also reported about dingoes that were aggressive and completely uncontrollable, but he was of the opinion that these reports "should not get more attention than they deserve," since the behaviour depends on how the dingo was raised since early puppyhood. He believed that these dogs could become very decent pets.
The ownership of dingoes as pets and their breeding is widely criticised. The main criticism is that the activities and the resulting consequences of the dingo conservation groups, "dingo farms" and legislation for legal ownership of dingoes for people in public, is seen to be an additional threat to the survival of the pure dingoes. This fear exists because the majority of these breeding activities effectively expedite the interbreeding of dingoes and other domestic dogs, when the identification of a pure dingo is not absolutely correct respectively when hybrids are sold as "pure" dingoes.[clarification needed]
Supporters of breeding programmes are only mildly optimistic about a successful outcome. Success in the form of a population viable for future re-wilding cannot be easily accomplished. According to David Jenkins,[who?] the breeding and reintroduction of pure dingoes is no easy option and, at the time,[when?] there were no studies that seriously dealt with this topic, especially in areas where dingo populations are already present.
An additional threat is that breeders may unconsciously select tamer dingoes by breeding individuals who are easier to manage. Therefore, it may happen that, over the years, the tame populations may become less suitable for living in the wild than their ancestors. In addition, a loss of genetic diversity (thus resulting in a higher susceptibility to diseases) might occur due to a small founding population, and negative changes could occur simply because the dogs were captive-bred. Furthermore, some features that are necessary for survival in the wild might "fade" under the conditions of domestication (for example, hunting techniques) because they are no longer needed.
Dingo pets are likely to escape.
Interactions with other animals
The dingo is regarded as part of the native Australian fauna by many environmentalists and biologists, as these dogs existed on the continent before the arrival of the Europeans and a mutual adaptation of the dingoes and their surrounding ecosystems had occurred.
Much of the present place of wild dogs in the Australian ecosystem, especially in the urban areas, remains unknown. Although the ecological role of dingoes in Northern and Central Australia is well understood, the same does not apply to the role of wild dogs in the east of the continent. In contrast to some claims, dingoes are assumed to have a positive impact on biodiversity in areas where feral foxes are present.
Dingoes are regarded as apex predators and possibly perform an ecological key function. Likely (with increasing evidence from scientific research), they control the diversity of the ecosystem by limiting the number of prey and keeping the competition in check. Wild dogs hunt feral livestock such as goats and pigs, as well as native prey and introduced animals. The low number of feral goats in Northern Australia is possibly caused by the presence of the dingoes, but whether they control the goats' numbers or not is still disputable. Studies from 1995 in the northern wet forests of Australia found the dingoes there did not reduce the number of feral pigs, but their predation only affects the pig population together with the presence of water buffaloes (which hinder the pigs' access to food).
Observations concerning the mutual impact of dingoes and red fox and cat populations suggest dingoes limit the access of foxes and cats to certain resources. As a result, a disappearance of the dingoes may cause an increase of red fox and feral cat numbers, and therefore, a higher pressure on native animals. These studies found the presence of dingoes is one of the factors that keep fox numbers in an area low, and therefore reduces pressure on native animals, which then do not disappear from the area. The countrywide numbers of red foxes are especially high where dingo numbers are low, but other factors might responsible for this, depending on the area. Evidence was found for a competition between wild dogs and red foxes in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, since many overlaps occurred in the spectrum of preferred prey, but only evidence for local competition, not on a grand scale, was found.
Also, dingoes can live with red foxes and feral cats without reducing their numbers in areas with sufficient food resources (for example, high rabbit numbers) and hiding places. Nearly nothing is known about the relationship of wild dogs and feral cats, except both mostly live in the same areas. Although wild dogs also eat cats, whether this affects the cat populations is not known.
Additionally, the disappearance of dingoes might increase the prevalence of kangaroo, rabbit, and Australian brushturkey numbers. In the areas outside the Dingo Fence, the number of dingoes and emus is lower than in the areas inside. However, the numbers changed depending on the habitat. Since the environment is the same on both sides of the fence, the dingo was assumed to be a strong factor for the regulation of these species.[clarification needed] Therefore, some people demand that dingo numbers should be allowed to increase or dingoes should be reintroduced in areas with low dingo populations to lower the pressure on endangered populations of native species and to reintroduce them in certain areas. In addition, the presence of the Australian brushturkey in Queensland increased significantly after dingo baiting was conducted.
Cultural opinions about the dingo are often based on its perceived "cunning", and the idea that it is an intermediate between civilisation and wildness.
Some of the early European settlers looked on dingoes as domestic dogs, while others thought they were more like wolves. Over the years, dingoes began to attack sheep, and their relationship to the Europeans changed very quickly; they were regarded as devious and cowardly, since they did not fight bravely in the eyes of the Europeans, and vanished into the bush. Additionally, they were seen as promiscuous or as devils with a venomous bite or saliva, so they could be killed unreservedly. Over the years, dingo trappers gained some prestige for their work, especially when they managed to kill hard-to-catch dingoes. Dingoes were associated with thieves, vagabonds, bushrangers, and parliamentary opponents. From the 1960s, politicians began calling their opponents "dingo", meaning they were cowardly and treacherous, and it has become a popular form of attack since then. Today, the word "dingo" still stands for "coward" and "cheat", with verb and adjective forms used, as well.
The dingo plays a prominent role in the Dreamtime stories of indigenous Australians, but it is rarely depicted in their cave paintings when compared with the extinct thylacine. One of the tribal elders of the people of the Yarralin, Northern Territory region tells that the Dreamtime dingo is the ancestor of both dingoes and humans. The dingoes "are what we would be if we were not what we are."
Similar to how Europeans acquired dingoes, the Aboriginal people of Australia acquired dogs from the immigrants very quickly. This process was so fast that Francis Barrallier (surveyor on early expeditions around the colony at Port Jackson) discovered in 1802 that five dogs of European origin were there before him. One theory holds that other domestic dogs adopt the role of the "pure" dingo. Introduced animals, such as the water buffalo and the domestic cat, have been adopted into the indigenous Aboriginal culture in the forms of rituals, traditional paintings, and dreamtime stories.
Most of the published myths originate from the Western Desert and show a remarkable complexity. In some stories, dingoes are the central characters, while in others, they are only minor ones. One time, an ancestor from the Dreamtime created humans and dingoes or gave them their current shape. Stories mention creation, socially acceptable behaviour, and explanations why some things are the way they are. Myths about exist shapeshifters (human to dingo or vice versa), "dingo-people", and the creation of certain landscapes or elements of those landscapes, like waterholes or mountains.
Livestock farming commenced expanding across Australia from the early 1800s, which led to conflict between the dingo and graziers. Sheep, and to a lesser extent cattle, are an easy target for dingoes. The pastoralists and the government bodies that support this industry have shot, trapped, and poisoned dingoes or destroyed dingo pups in their dens. After two centuries of persecution, the dingo or dingo–dog hybrids can still be found across most of the continent.
Research on the real extent of the damage and the reason for this problem only started recently. Livestock can die from many causes, and when the carcass is found, determining with certainty the cause of death is often difficult. Since the outcome of an attack on livestock depends to a high degree on the behaviour and experience of the predator and the prey, only direct observation is certain to determine whether an attack was by dingoes or other domestic dogs. Even the existence of remnants of the prey in the scat of wild dogs does not prove they are pests, since wild dogs also eat carrion.
The cattle industry can tolerate low to moderate, and sometimes high, grades[clarification needed] of wild dogs (therefore dingoes are not so easily regarded as pests in these areas). In the case of sheep and goats, a zero-tolerance attitude is common. The biggest threats are dogs that live inside or near the paddock areas. The extent of sheep loss is hard to determine due to the wide pasture lands in some parts of Australia.
In 2006, cattle losses in the Northern Territory rangeland grazing areas were estimated to be up to 30%.
Therefore, factors such as availability of native prey, as well as the defending behaviour and health of the cattle, play an important role in the number of losses. A study in Central Australia in 2003 confirmed that dingoes only have a low impact on cattle numbers when a sufficient supply of other prey (such as kangaroos and rabbits) is available. In some parts of Australia, i the loss of calves is assumed to be minimised if horned cattle are used instead of polled. The precise economic impact is not known in this[which?] case, and the rescue of some calves is unlikely to compensate for the necessary costs of control measures. Calves usually suffer less lethal wounds than sheep due to their size and the protection by the adult cattle, so have a higher chance of surviving an attack. As a result, the evidence of a dog attack may only be discovered after the cattle have been herded back into the enclosure,[clarification needed] and signs such as bitten ears, tails, and other wounds are discovered.
The opinions of cattle owners regarding dingoes are more variable than those of sheep owners. Some cattle owners believe that the weakened mother losing her calf is better in times of drought so that she does not have to care for her calf, too. Therefore, these owners are more hesitant to kill dingoes. The cattle industry may benefit from the predation of dingoes on rabbits, kangaroos, and rats. Furthermore, the mortality rate of calves has many possible causes, and discriminating between them is difficult. The only reliable method to document the damage would be to document all pregnant cows, then observe their development and those of their calves. The loss of calves in observed areas where dingoes were controlled was higher than in other areas. Loss of livestock is, therefore, not necessarily caused by the occurrence of dingoes and is independent from wild dogs. One researcher has stated that for cattle stations where dingoes were controlled, kangaroos were abundant, and this affects the availability of grass.
Domestic dogs are the only terrestrial predators in Australia that are big enough to kill fully grown sheep, and only a few sheep manage to recover from the severe injuries. In the case of lambs, death can have many causes apart from attacks by predators, which are blamed for the deaths because they eat from the carcasses. Although attacks by red foxes are possible, such attacks are more rare than previously thought. The fact that the sheep and goat industry is much more susceptible to damage caused by wild dogs than the cattle industry is mostly due to two factors - the flight behaviour of the sheep and their tendency to flock together in the face of danger, and the hunting methods of wild dogs, along with their efficient way of handling goat and sheep.
Therefore, the damage to the livestock industry does not correlate to the numbers of wild dogs in an area (except that no damage occurs where no wild dogs occur).
According to a report from the government of Queensland, wild dogs cost the state about $30 million annually due to livestock losses, the spread of diseases, and control measures. Losses for the livestock industry alone were estimated to be as high as $18 million. In Barcaldine, Queensland, up to one-fifth of all sheep are killed by dingoes annually, a situation which has been described as an "epidemic". According to a survey among cattle owners in 1995, performed by the Park and Wildlife Service, owners estimated their annual losses due to wild dogs (depending on the district) to be from 1.6% to 7.1%.
In 2018, a study in northern South Australia indicates that fetal/calf loss average 18.6%, with no significant reduction due to dingo baiting. The calf losses did not correlate with increased dingo activity, and the cattle diseases pestivirus and leptospirosis were a major cause. Dingoes then scavenged on the carcasses. There was also evidence of dingo predation on calves.
Among the indigenous Australians, dingoes were also used as hunting aids, living hot water bottles, and camp dogs. Their scalps were used as a kind of currency, their teeth were traditionally used for decorative purposes, and their fur for traditional costumes.
Sometimes "pure" dingoes are important for tourism, when they are used to attract visitors. However, this seems to be common only on Fraser Island, where the dingoes are extensively used as a symbol to enhance the attraction of the island. Tourists are drawn to the experience of personally interacting with dingoes. Pictures of dingoes appear on brochures, many websites, and postcards advertising the island.
The dingo is recognised as a native animal under the laws of all Australian jurisdictions. Australia has over 500 national parks of which all but six are managed by the states and territories. As of 2017[update], the legal status of the dingo varies between these jurisdictions and in some instances it varies between different regions of a single jurisdiction.
- Australian government: The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 under section 528 defines a native species as one that was present in Australia before the year 1400. The dingo is protected in all Australian government managed national parks and reserves, World Heritage Areas, and other protected areas.
- Australian Capital Territory: The dingo is listed as a "pest animal" in the Pest Plants and Animals (Pest Animals) Declaration 2016 (No 1) made under the Pest Plants and Animals Act 2005, which calls for a management plan for pest animals. The Nature Conservation Act 2014 protects native animals in national parks and reserves but excludes this protection to "pest animals" declared under the Pest Plants and Animals Act 2005.
- New South Wales: The dingo falls under the definition of "wildlife" under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 however it also becomes "unprotected fauna" under Schedule 11 of the act. The Wild Dog Destruction Act (1921) applies only to the western division of the state and includes the dingo in its definition of "wild dogs". The act requires landowners to destroy any wild dogs on their property and any person owning a dingo or half-bred dingo without a permit faces a fine. In other parts of the state, dingoes can be kept as pets under the Companion Animals Act 1998 as a dingo is defined under this act as a "dog". The dingo has been proposed for listing under the Threatened Species Conservation Act because it is argued that these dogs had established populations before the arrival of Europeans, however no decision has been made.
- Northern Territory: The dingo is a "vertebrate that is indigenous to Australia" and therefore "protected wildlife" under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2014. A permit is required for all matters dealing with protected wildlife.
- Queensland: The dingo is listed as "least concern wildlife" in the Nature Conservation (Wildlife) Regulation 2006 under the Nature Conservation Act 1992, therefore the dingo is protected in National Parks and conservation areas. The dingo is listed as a "pest" in the Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Regulation 2003 under the Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2002, which requires land owners to take reasonable steps to keep their lands free of pests.
- South Australia: The National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 defines a protected animal as one that is indigenous to Australia but then lists the dingo as an "unprotected species" under Schedule 11. The purpose of the Dog Fence Act 1946 is to prevent wild dogs entering into the pastoral and agricultural areas south of the dog-proof fence. The dingo is listed as a "wild dog" under this act, and landowners are required to maintain the fence and destroy any wild dog within the vicinity of the fence by shooting, trapping or baiting. The dingo is listed as an "unprotected species" in the Natural Resources Management Act 2004, which allows landowners to lay baits "to control animals" on their land just north of the dog fence.
- Tasmania: Tasmania does not have a native dingo population. The dingo is listed as a "restricted animal" in the Nature Conservation Act 2002 and cannot be imported without a permit. Once imported into Tasmania, a dingo is listed as a dog under the Dog Control Act 2000.
- Victoria: The dingo is a "vertebrate taxon" that is "indigenous" to Australia and therefore "wildlife" under the Wildlife Act 1975, which protects wildlife. The act mandates that a permit is required to keep a dingo, and that this dingo must not be cross-bred with a dog. The act allows an order to be made to unprotect dingoes in certain areas of the state. The Order in Council made on the 28 September 2010 includes the far north-west of the state and all of the state north-east of Melbourne. It was made to protect stock on private land. The order allows dingoes to be trapped, shot or baited by any person on private land in these regions, while protecting the dingo on state-owned land.
- Western Australia: Dingoes are considered as "unprotected" native fauna under the Western Australian Wildlife Conservation Act. The dingo is recorded as a "declared pest" on the Western Australian Organism List. This list records those species that have been declared as pests under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007, and these are regarded as pests across all of Western Australia. Landowners must take the prescribed measures to deal with declared pests on their land. The policy of the WA government is to promote eradication of dingoes in the livestock grazing areas but leave them undisturbed in the rest of the state.
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Dingo attacks on livestock led to widescale efforts to repel them from areas with intensive agricultural usage, and all states and territories have enacted laws for the control of dingoes. In the early 20th century, fences were erected to keep dingoes away from areas frequented by sheep, and a tendency to routinely eradicate dingoes developed among some livestock owners. Established methods for the control of dingoes in sheep areas entailed the employment of specific workers on every property. The job of these people (who were nicknamed "doggers") was to reduce the number of dingoes by using steel traps, baits, firearms and other methods. The responsibility for the control of wild dogs lay solely in the hands of the landowners. At the same time, the government was forced to control the number of dingoes. As a result, a number of measures for the control of dingoes developed over time. It was also considered that dingoes travel over long distances to reach areas with richer prey populations, and the control methods were often concentrated along "paths" or "trails" and in areas that were far away from sheep areas. All dingoes were regarded as a potential danger and were hunted.
Apart from the introduction of the poison 1080 (extensively used for 40 years and nicknamed "doggone"), the methods and strategies for controlling wild dogs have changed little over time. Information concerning cultural importance to indigenous people and the importance of dingoes and the impact of control measures on other species is also lacking in some areas. Historically, the attitudes and needs of indigenous people were not taken into account when dingoes were controlled. Other factors that might be taken into account are the genetic status (degree of interbreeding) of dingoes in these areas, ownership and land usage, as well as a reduction of killing measures to areas outside of the zones. However, most control measures and the appropriate studies are there to minimise the loss of livestock and not to protect dingoes.
Increasing pressure from environmentalists against the random killing of dingoes, as well as the impact on other animals, demanded that more information needed to be gathered to prove the necessity of control measures and to disprove the claim of unnecessary killings. Today, permanent population control is regarded as necessary to reduce the impact of all wild dogs and to ensure the survival of the "pure" dingo in the wild.
In the 1920s, the Dingo Fence was erected on the basis of the Wild Dog Act (1921) and, until 1931, thousands of miles of Dingo Fences had been erected in several areas of South Australia. In the year 1946, these efforts were directed to a single goal, and the Dingo Fence was finally completed. The fence connected with other fences in New South Wales and Queensland. The main responsibilities in maintaining the Dingo Fence still lies with the landowners, whose properties border on the fence and receive financial support from the government.
A reward system (local, as well from the government) was active from 1846 to the end of the 20th century, but there is no evidence that – despite the billions of dollars spent – it was ever an efficient control method. Therefore, its importance declined over time.
Dingo scalping commenced in 1912 with the passage of the Wild Dogs Act by the government of South Australia. In an attempt to reduce depredation on livestock, that government offered a bounty for dingo skins, and this program was later repeated in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. One writer argues that this new legislation and economic driver had significant impacts on Aboriginal society in the region.
Strychnine is still used in all parts of Australia.
Baits with the poison 1080 are regarded as the fastest and safest method for dog control, since they are extremely susceptible. Even small amounts of poison per dog are sufficient (0.3 mg per kg). The application of aerial baiting is regulated in the Commonwealth by the Civil Aviation Regulations (1988). The assumption that the tiger quoll might be damaged by the poison led to the dwindling of areas where aerial baiting could be performed. In areas where aerial baiting is no longer possible, it is necessary to put down baits.
The eradication of dingoes due to livestock damage decreased along with the importance of the sheep industry and the usage of strychnine (which beforehand had been used for 100 years) in the 1970s. The number of doggers also decreased and the frequency of government-approved aerial baiting increased. During this period, many farmers in Western Australia switched to the cattle industry, and findings in the area of biology led to a significant change in control measures and techniques in association with reduced costs and increased efficiency. At the same time, the importance of 1080 increased.
In 2016, controversy surrounded a plan to inject a population of dingoes on Pelorus Island, off the coast of northern Queensland, Australia, with pills that would release a fatal dose of 1080 poison two years after the dingoes were to be intentionally released to help eradicate goats. The dingoes were dubbed 'death-row dingoes', and the plan was blocked due to concerns for a locally threatened shorebird.
Efficiency of measures
The efficiency of control measures was questioned in the past and is often questioned today, as well as whether they stand in a good cost-benefit ratio. The premium system proved to be susceptible to deception and to be useless on a large scale, and can therefore only be used for getting rid of "problem-dogs". Animal traps are considered inhumane and inefficient on a large scale, due to the limited efficacy of baits. Based on studies, it is assumed that only young dogs that would have died anyway can be captured. Furthermore, wild dogs are capable of learning and sometimes are able to detect and avoid traps quite efficiently. In one case, a dingo bitch followed a dogger and triggered his traps one after another by carefully pushing her paw through the sand that covered the trap.
Poisonous baits can be very effective when they are of good meat quality; however, they do not last long and are occasionally taken by red foxes, quolls, ants and birds. Aerial baiting can nearly eliminate whole dingo populations. Livestock guardian dogs can effectively minimise livestock losses, but are less effective on wide open areas with widely distributed livestock. Furthermore, they can be a danger to the livestock or be killed by control measures themselves when they are not sufficiently supervised by their owners. Fences are reliable in keeping wild dogs from entering certain areas, but they are expensive to build, need permanent maintenance, and only cause the problem to be relocated.
Control measures mostly result in smaller packs and a disruption of pack structure. The measures seem[which?] to be rather detrimental to the livestock industry because the empty territories are taken over by young dogs and the predation then increases. Nonetheless, it is regarded as unlikely that the control measures could completely eradicate the dingo in Central Australia, and the elimination of all wild dogs is not considered a realistic option.
It has been shown that culling a small percentage of immature dingoes on Fraser Island have little significant negative impact on the overall island population, though this is being disputed.
Conservation of purebreds
Until 2004, the dingo was categorised as of "least concern" on the Red List of Threatened Species. However, it has since been recategorised as "vulnerable," following the decline in numbers to around 30% of "pure" dingoes, due to crossbreeding with domestic dogs.
Dingoes are reasonably abundant in large parts of Australia, but there is some argument that they are endangered due to interbreeding with other dogs in many parts of their range. Dingoes are not a protected species, but they are regulated under federal law and, thus, their status varies in different states and territories. Dingoes receive varying levels of protection in conservation areas such as national parks and natural reserves in New South Wales, the Northern Territory and Victoria, Arnhem Land and other Aboriginal lands, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the whole of the Australian Capital Territory. In some states, dingoes are regarded as declared pests and landowners are allowed to control the local populations. Throughout Australia, all other wild dogs are considered pests.
Fraser Island is a 1,840 square kilometre World Heritage Site located off Australia's eastern coast. The island is home to a genetically distinct population of dingoes that are free of dog introgression, estimated to number 120. These dingoes are unique because they are closely related to the southeastern dingoes but share a number of genes with the New Guinea singing dog and show some evidence of admixture with the northwestern dingoes. Because of their conservation value, in February 2013, a report on Fraser Island dingo management strategies was released, with options including ending the intimidation of dingoes, tagging practice changes and regular veterinarian checkups, as well as a permanent dingo sanctuary on the island. According to DNA examinations from 2004, the dingoes of Fraser Island are "pure", as opposed to dingo—dog hybrids. However, skull measurements from the mid-1990s had a different result. A 2013 study showed that dingoes living in the Tanami Desert are among the "purest" in Australia.
Groups that have devoted themselves to the conservation of the "pure" dingo by using breeding programs include the Australian Native Dog Conservation Society and the Australian Dingo Conservation Association. Presently, the efforts of the dingo conservation groups are considered to be ineffective because most of their dogs are untested or are known to be hybrids.
Dingo conservation efforts focus primarily on preventing interbreeding between dingoes and other domestic dogs in order to conserve the population of pure dingoes. This is extremely difficult and costly. Conservation efforts are hampered by the fact that it is not known how many pure dingoes still exist in Australia. Steps to conserve the pure dingo can only be effective when the identification of dingoes and other domestic dogs is absolutely reliable, especially in the case of living specimens. Additionally, conservation efforts are in conflict with control measures.
Conservation of pure and survivable dingo populations is promising in remote areas, where contact with humans and other domestic dogs is rare. Under New South Wales state policy in parks, reserves and other areas not used by agriculture, these populations are only to be controlled when they pose a threat to the survival of other native species. The introduction of "dog-free" buffer zones around areas with pure dingoes is regarded as a realistic method to stop interbreeding. This is enforced in the way that all wild dogs can be killed outside of the conservation areas. However, studies from the year 2007 indicate that even an intensive control of core areas is probably not able to stop the process of interbreeding.
According to the Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Centre, many studies are finding a case for the re-introduction of the dingo into previously occupied areas in order to return some balance to badly degraded areas as a result of "unregulated and ignorant farming practices".
European domestic dogs first arrived in Australia during the European colonisation. These dogs reverted to the wild (both unintentionally and intentionally), produced feral populations and interbred with the existing dingoes. Hybrids of dingoes and domestic dogs exist today in all wild dog populations of Australia, with their numbers having increased to such a degree that any completely "pure" populations may no longer exist.
Dingo-like domestic dogs and dingo-hybrids can be generally distinguished from "pure" dingoes by their fur colour, since there is a wider range of colours and patterns among them than among dingoes. In addition, the more dog-typical kind of barking exists among the hybrids, and differences in the breeding cycle, certain skull characteristics, and genetic analyses can be used for differentiation. Despite all the characteristics that can be used for distinguishing between dingoes and other domestic dogs, there are two problems that should not be underestimated. First, there is no real clarity regarding at what point a dog is regarded as a "pure" dingo, and, secondly, no distinguishing feature is completely reliable—it is not known which characteristics permanently remain under the conditions of natural selection.
There are two main opinions regarding this process of interbreeding. The first, and likely most common, position states that the "pure" dingo should be preserved via strong controls of the wild dog populations, and only "pure" or "nearly-pure" dingoes should be protected. The second position is relatively new and is of the opinion that people must accept that the dingo has changed and that it is impossible to bring the "pure" dingo back. Conservation of these dogs should therefore be based on where and how they live, as well as their cultural and ecological role, instead of concentrating on precise definitions or concerns about "genetic purity". Both positions are controversially discussed.
Due to this interbreeding, there is a wider range of fur colours, skull shapes and body size in the modern-day wild dog population than in the time before the arrival of the Europeans. Over the course of the last 40 years,[when?] there has been an increase of about 20% in the average wild dog body size. It is currently unknown whether, in the case of the disappearance of "pure" dingoes, remaining hybrids would alter the predation pressure on other animals. It is also unclear what kind of role these hybrids would play in the Australian ecosystems. However, it is unlikely that the dynamics of the various ecosystems will be excessively disturbed by this process.
In 2011, a total of 3,941 samples were included in the first continent-wide DNA study of wild dogs. The study found that 46% were pure dingoes which exhibited no dog alleles (gene expressions). There was evidence of hybridisation in every region sampled. In Central Australia only 13% were hybrids, however in southeastern Australia 99% were hybrids or feral dogs. Pure dingo distribution was 88% in the Northern Territory, intermediate numbers in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland, and 1% in New South Wales and Victoria. Almost all wild dogs showed some dingo ancestry, with only 3% of dogs showing less than 80% dingo ancestry. This indicates that domestic dogs have a low survival rate in the wild or that most hybridisation is the result of roaming dogs that return to their owners. No populations of feral dogs have been found in Australia.
In 2016, a three dimensional geometric morphometric analysis of the skulls of dingoes, dogs and their hybrids found that dingo-dog hybrids exhibit morphology closer to the dingo than to the parent group dog. Hybridisation did not push the unique Canis dingo cranial morphology towards the wolf phenotype, therefore hybrids cannot be distinguished from dingoes based on cranial measures. The study suggests that the wild dingo morphology is dominant when compared with the recessive dog breed morphology, and concludes that although hybridisation introduces dog DNA into the dingo population, the native cranial morphology remains resistant to change.
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