The Dingo (Canis lupus dingo) has become an iconic Australian animal, although it is not a native species of Australia. Dingos are an ancestor of the Asiatic wolf and were brought to Australia with visiting seafarers 5000 years ago.
An International Study in the journal Nature suggests that the Dingo may be the world’s oldest dog and are most closely related to wolves.
Alma Park Zoo is home to four Dingoes. Simba, a young male Dingo arrived at the Zoo in 2012 and is often found walking around the Zoo with his Keepers and posing for photographs with guests during Aussie Discovery Encounters.
The Dingo is a medium sized canine with varying coat colours from golden yellow to darker black and tan coats. It is believed that their coat colour is influenced by their habitat with golden yellow Dingoes living in sandy, desert regions and the darker coat variations being found in forestry areas.
Dingoes were first reported in the 1600s and lived alongside humans ever since. The Dingo is Australia’s largest mammalian predator, play a key role in Australia’s ecosystem being an apex predator.
Whilst a Dingo may look like a domestic dog, they have a number of physical characteristics that are different from domestic dogs which include:
- Complex Vocabulary: Dingoes rarely ‘bark’. They communicate by howling, snorting and even purring.
- Larger canine teeth: The canines of a Dingo are larger than a domesticated dog.
- Rotating Wrists: The wrist of a Dingo is capable of rotation. This allows Dingoes can use their paws like hands ensuring their success as hunters.
- Large range of vision: A Dingo can turn its head through almost 180 degrees in each direction.
- Independent Nature: Dingoes are independent and highly intelligent, so they are harder and more challenging to train than domesticated dogs.
- Yearly Breeding: Dingoes only breed once a year.
Dingoes are adaptable to their environment and occupy a wide variety of habitats from coastal regions to grasslands and wooded areas as well as the extremes of tropics and arid desert zones of mainland Australia. They have never been present in Tasmania, because they arrived after the Bass Strait formed.
Purebred Dingoes are rare with wild dingoes mating with feral domestic dogs. Some of the genetically purest Dingoes are found on Fraser Island in Queensland. A recent study by the University of Western Sydney has suggested that a population of purebred Dingoes can be found on the outskirts of Sydney in New South Wales.
As with other Canids, Dingoes are a pack animal and associate in family groups, comprised of a dominant breeding pair and their young from previous years. Male dingoes are larger than females. Males weigh 12 to 20 kg (26 to 43 pounds) and females weigh 10 to 15 kg (21 to 35 pounds).
Males and females both exhibit dominance hierarchies. They breed once a year between Mar – Jun, unlike the domestic dog which can have two litters of pups annually. Dingo territory varies in size depending on the amount of available resources (food, water, shelter).
A pack will actively defend the boundary of this territory using scent marking, faecal droppings and vocalisations. As with wolves, dingos howl but do not bark. They can; however, mimic a bark that sounds similar in the presence of domestic dogs.
The Dingo is a carnivore and an apex predator in Australia. Due to the Dingoe’s natural hunting behaviour they have been widely misunderstood. Recent studies by the Western Australian Dingo Association have shown that where the Dingo is in a stable social habitation, small native species such as the Bilby, Quoll and rare wallabies survive in a natural healthy state. In areas where the Dingo populations have been controlled, the same small native species are threatened by fox and cat predation.
The Dingoes ability to turn their heads almost 360 degrees allows them to track their prey efficiently. Their rotating wrists also provide advantages with hunting. Dingoes hunt co-operatively within their territory in groups of up to 10-12 animals. Hunting in packs allow Dingoes to successfully capture large prey such as kangaroos or introduced animals such as feral pigs. Dingoes hunting alone will capture smaller mammals, birds or reptiles.
The Dingo has no natural predators other than crocodiles. However, the Dingo faces other threats which include:
- Deforestation and loss of habitat
- Persecution due to livestock predation
- Loss of pure Dingoes from inter-breeding with domestic dogs.
Loss of habitat and persecution due to livestock predation are both threats facing the survival of Dingoes in the wild. The most serious impact to this species is hybridisation with domestic dogs. It is estimated that less than 10% pure dingos remain today.
Due to difficulty identifying wild dog / dingo hybrids these animals are jointly listed as Pests and required under Federal law to be controlled. Unfortunately, loss of this top order predator has flow-down effects in the ecosystem and means that feral populations of animals such as rabbits, foxes, goats and pigs can spiral out of control. Recent studies have shown that in areas where dingos are no longer present there is an overabundance of macropods, so they have a significant role in population control of native animals as well.
Today, purebred Dingoes are considered to be an animal vulnerable to extinction. In Australia, Dingoes are protected and it is illegal to own a Dingo in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia. Much of the conservation work being conducted for Dingoes is to ensure that the species remains pure and does not inter breed with domestic dogs.
Video Clip: A Dogs Life: Sunday