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Dingo: The Australian Wild Dog
An Introduction to the Dingo
Australia is known for its many unique animals. The Dingo is similar to animals found in many other countries, but it still maintains the Australian tradition of distinctiveness. While there are dingoes in Southeast Asia, this wild dog is found almost exclusively in Australia, just like so many other Australian animals. This is largely because the evolution of most of the countries animals happened after the continents broke apart. Because Australia was so far away from any other land, its species evolved and adapted to the unique environment and were then unable to travel to any other areas of the world. The dingo is just one of Australias many fascinating animals.
There is a great deal of disagreement about dingoes. Many people consider them to be a vital part of the Australian culture and they have long been a part of Aboriginal traditions and ceremonies. However, they are also a predator and can be a serious problem for farmers, just as wolves can be a problem in North America.
Regardless of your opinion of dingoes, they are a fascinating animal. They are wild, and yet they are so similar to domestic dogs. There has been a great deal of debate about their origin and evolution, and the mystery makes them even more interesting.
Read on to find out more about the remarkable dingo.
All photos belong to author unless otherwise credited.
The Origin of the Dingo
There are many theories about just where the dingo came from. It was originally thought that, like domestic dogs, they evolved from the Arabian wolf or Indian wolf. Fossil found for both species were similar, so the theory made sense. However, with the advances of technology, DNA analysis has shows that this theory isn’t correct. It appears that dingos are more closely related to domestic dogs themselves than to wolves. The new theory posed is that dingos were domesticated, and became feral thousands of years ago.
After extensive DNA tests, the generally accepted conclusion is that dingoes came to Australia 4600-5400 years ago. It’s possible that they arrived as early as 10,800 years ago, but only if genetic mutations were slow. Scientists also think that there were very few original dingoes who began the species. Despite these extensive tests, there still is some uncertainty surrounding the origins of the dingo. They may have had more than one migration from Asia to Australia, though it is difficult to say for sure.
The scientific name for dingoes has changed several times of the past couple of centuries, sometimes relating them closer to dogs, sometimes to wolves. They have various common names, too. Aboriginals called their dogs "tingoes", which is here the name dingo likely originated. They are sometimes called Australian native dogs or Australian wolves.
The Dingo's Physical Characteristics
Dingoes look very similar to North American and European dogs. However, they do have distinct differences. Their muzzles are longer, their skulls are flatter, and many of their teeth are larger. They generally weigh from 29-44 pounds (13-20 kg), but there are a few records of dingoes as large as 60-77 pounds. Northern dingoes are usually larger than those in central or southern Australia. There is a dingo population in Asia, however the Australian dingoes are larger than their Asian counterparts.
Almost all dingoes have sandy, tan, or red colored fur, but there are some who are black or white. These colours are very rare in Australia, but are more common in Asia. Some other color patterns exist, but these are the result of cross breeding between dingoes and domestic dogs.
The behaviour of dingoes is influences largely by the Australian climate. They are usually active for only short periods at once, often resting after just one hour of activity. Like many other Australian animals, they are most active at dawn and dusk, when it is cool. In warmer areas, they are more nocturnal than they are in cooler areas.
They usually are shy of humans, but there are some areas where dingoes move through populated areas at night without trouble. They can become defensive around humans, but prefer to avoid us.
Like wolves, they are carnivores and are often blamed for livestock deaths, but they do not typically prey on livestock. With such a large country, there is a great deal of diversity in behavior. In some areas they hunt only a few species, while in other areas they have a wide range of prey. They usually form packs (though young males sometimes go solo), and packs vary in size based on location and prey.
There is of course also the famous saying, “The dingo ate my baby!” This stems from a 1980 attack near Uluru. Lindy Chamberlain claimed her baby had been taken by a dingo, but authorities did not believe her and she was convicted of murder. Her baby’s jacket was later found in a dingo den, and the conviction was reversed. Dingo attacks are atypical, though, and are usually not fatal and are often caused by humans feeding dingoes.
Dingoes as Pets
There is a great deal of debate about whether dingoes are suitable pets or should be left as wild dogs. Some people consider a domesticated dingo to be a wonderful pet while others find them to be too potentially dangerous. It has been argued that domesticating dingoes and declaring them to be a proper breed of dog can help to preserve the line of pure dingoes.
Attempts to domesticate dingoes have been met with varying results. Generally, dingoes have responded well and become tame, but others have remained feral. A lot depends on experiences dingoes have right from when they are puppies; the more contact they have with humans, the more likely it is they will become tame. Some even act just like other domestic dogs. Dingoes have been known to be shepherd dogs and are usually quite skilled at it. This is likely because they are a pack animal. Laws about domesticating dingoes varies and are usually based on their conservation status in a particular area.
Wild or Domestic?
Do you think Dingoes can or should be domesticated as pets?
How Dingoes Communicate
Despite the similarities dingoes share with domestic dogs, their communication is quite different. They rarely bark, instead tending to whimper or howl to communicate with each other. When they do bark, it is usually a warning. Experiments have been done to see if dingoes can learn how to bark from other domesticated dogs, but it seems that they usually do not pick up the habit.
Howls are common with dingoes and they have several distinct forms of howling. Dingo howls can be long or short, loud or soft. It is unclear exactly what each howl indicates, but the type of howl changes depending on what time of day or year it is, if they are breeding, migrating, or various other social influences. They often howl to communicate with members of their pack who are far away, especially when food is scarce and they are more spread out.
Dingoes also growl. They usually do this as a defense or to show their dominance. With members of their own species, growls are sometimes used in place of a bite, to warn without causing any actual harm.
Like domestic dogs, dingoes mark their territory using scent, either by rubbing or by excretion.