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Rainforest Dingo

Dingo
Photo: C & D Frith
Australia's Cape York Peninsula

Rainforest Dingo: Canis familiaris

  • Other common names for the dingo include Dog, Wild Dog and Warrigal.

Distinguishable Features:

  • It is typically ginger coloured with white points. Some are black with tan points, and very rarely, some are completely white.

History:

  • The origins of the dingo to Australia are yet unknown, but it is thought to have been introduced by Aboriginal people.
  • The oldest reliably dated fossil, an almost complete skeleton, is estimated to have an age of approximately 3000 years. Another one, less strongly substantiated, is said to be 8000 years old.

Dingoes and Domestic Dogs:

  • It is a member of an equatorial group of primitive dogs (New Guinea, south-eastern Asia, northern Africa). One main difference between the dingo and a domestic dog is that it only breeds once a year, whereas a domestic dog breeds twice.
  • Dingoes and domestic dogs are actually members of the same species, so can therefore interbreed. A high proportion of hybrids make up wild populations in south-eastern Australia, but this is less common in central and northern Australia.

Distribution and Habitat:

  • Dingoes are present everywhere in Australia except Tasmania and most small islands. This suggests it did not reach southern Australia until after Bass Strait was formed.
  • Its introduction may be the reason for the Tasmanian Thylacine and Tasmanian Devil not surviving on the mainland.
  • It is restricted by its need to access drinking water in arid and semi-arid areas, however, if mammalian food is available in winter, it may not need to drink every day.
  • In south-eastern Australia, dingoes generally favour the edges of forests where they meet heathlands or grasslands – the same habitat as the Common Wombat, Swamp Wallaby, Eastern Grey Kangaroo and feral rabbits, all of which become its prey.
  • National Parks, particularly in the forests between the Dividing Range and the coast in eastern Australia, are very important for the conservation of dingoes.

Mating and Breeding:

  • Autumn to early winter is the time when mating usually occurs. The gestation period is about 9 weeks. 3 to 4 pups are usually born from late winter to spring, but sometimes as few as 1 or as many as 8 are born.
  • Dingoes weigh 11.8-19.4kg (males) and 9.6-16.0kg (females).

Food and Hunting:

  • A well-defined home range is occupied by individuals, its size depending on terrain and abundance of prey. They are opportunistic predators, with mammals comprising about 60 percent of their diet, and reptiles and birds making up the rest.
  • If small game are most common, the dingo usually hunts alone. If large prey are available however, they hunt cooperatively in groups.
  • Rodents and rabbits are its most common prey in central Australia, whereas macropods are in south-eastern Australia. Domestic livestock are occasionally taken too. Only sporadically is the dingo responsible for large losses of sheep. It is generally regarded as a pest because of this association with sheep.

Attempts To Control The Dingo:

  • As an attempt to exclude it from eastern and southern grazing lands, the longest fence in the world was erected. (In fact, it is the longest man-made structure in the world, well over twice the length of the Great Wall of China.) In Queensland it is called the Barrier Fence, where it stretches for 2500km. It then joins the Border Fence in New South Wales, and travels another 584km. This is finally connected to the Dog Fence, 2225km of fence in South Australia. The whole structure is known as the Dingo Fence.
  • It is a two-metre wire mesh fence that divides the eastern states from the deep outback. Sections of it date back more than 100 years ago when it was used to try to exclude widespread invasion by the introduced rabbit. This was quite unsuccessful, but it did prove useful in excluding emus, kangaroos, pigs and brumbies from the feedlots inside. Efforts later turned to excluding dingoes when sheep farmers became impressed with the ability of the fence to keep out hungry dingoes from their grazing properties.
  • In the past, landholders employed ‘doggers’ to trap and shoot dingoes, rewarding them with money for scalps. In Queensland, between 1932 and 1967, 685,000 dingo scalps were collected.
  • Some farmers have traded their sheep for cattle as a response to the dingo problem. Others, who believe the fence is successful, keep up the pressure for the fence to be upgraded. In Queensland, upgrading costs about $1 million per year. Alternatively, some think the money would be better spent on a dingo eradication program – hunting, shooting, trapping and baiting with 1080 (a poison). There is concern however those poisoning programs may endanger native mammals.

Additional Information: Courtesy of Damon Ramsey

  • Despite common misconceptions the Dingo is, like all breeds of domestic dogs, merely a type of Wolf, Canis lupus.

  • The ability to interbreed with domestic dogs is seen by many as a great threat to the 'pure' breed of dingo (Strahan 1998).

  • Unlike the domestic dogs, it generally does not bark, but it is common to hear its howls.

  • The Dingo can be considered as Australia's first feral animal, as it was probably introduced by humans.

  • The Dingo was, and still is, used as a companion animal.

  • It is used as a source or warmth; literally as a furry blanket in the areas of Australia where night time temperatures drop considerably.

  • In many places it was used to chase, harass or actually catch game (Corbett 1995).

  • The Dingo itself was said to be eaten during times of food shortage.

  • Its importance to Aboriginal Australians is accented by the amount of rock paintings that the animal appears in.
    Script: Courtesy of  Damon Ramsey BSc.(Zool) Biologist Guide

Additional Dingo Photos


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Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
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