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In a land of marsupials, a land that has been described as a huge natural reserve for archaic forms of life, a representative of the wolf clan became established thousands of years ago and is still flourishing despite man's ceaseless efforts to exterminate it. Romance and mystery surround the warrigal, or dingo, and the bane of white men whose forefathers dispossessed Australia's original inhabitants of their hunting-grounds. From these vast areas, which were given over to sheep and cattle, indigenous tribes have long since vanished, but the wild dog of wolf ancestry has remained on.
It has been claimed by several scientific students of our fauna that the dingo is a true and indigenous Australian mammal. Others say that it reached Australia by a land bridge which ages ago ceased to exist, or that it was brought here by the ancestors of the aboriginals who were migrants from south-eastern Asia. Dr. Logan Jack, who was not a zoologist, but a geologist, concluded that "the dingo arrived by some chance means of conveyance without assistance, or he may have simply walked overland". More than one expert credits the dingo with being the progenitor of the domestic dog, while Professor Frederick McCoy regarded Canis dingo as one of the most ancient Australian mammals.
Introduced by Aborigines
Various other opinions have been expressed. Thus, many people believe that the dingo was introduced by early Dutch navigators, or that centuries ago Malayan visitors to our northern coasts added it to the already teeming variety of fauna of "Kangaroo Land".
The evidence indicates rather clearly that the warrigal is not indigenous, but that it came to Australia with the aborigines by sea some time in the distant past. This is the opinion of Professor Wood Jones, who remarks that when we come to think of the astonishing history of the relations of man and dog, we need not be upset at the length of time during which the dingo, a very primitive dog, has been a resident in Australia. Both dingo and Aboriginal were in Australia when the giant extinct marsupial Diprotodon still lived.
The dingo became feral, a wild dog, many centuries ago; but still, even in the most remote cases, it reveals the old association with man. "He still falls in behind the buggy," writes Professor Wood Jones, in Mammals of South Australia, "still follows the traveller at a discreet distance, still has a leaning toward hanging on to his camp, and this despite the fact that he is always killed at sight for the price of his scalp."
That the dingo is untamable by the white man is one of several widespread beliefs concerning the dingo that are easily disproved. Many wild dogs have been tamed by Europeans. Dingoes reared from puppyhood on a station homestead or an outback farmhouse have proved both friendly and faithful. Some, however, have returned to the wild and become real warrigals, soon losing all sign of traits associated with domestication.
Characteristics and Habits
That dingoes are invariably of a yellowish-brown or tawny color, unless hybrids, is another popular misconception. The truth is that while the great majority of them may be "yellow dogs," there are dark-colored and creamy-yellow dingoes, also reddish-brown specimens, and even black ones, though these are uncommon. Rarely do albinoes occur.
A very primitive dog, the dingo possesses relatively very large teeth and other wolf characteristics. As Professor Wood Jones has shown, like all other races of domestic dogs the dingo is of the true northern wolf type, and a subspecies of Canis familiaris.
Generally, dingoes hunt silently; but when on the prowl in a pack, they indulge in chorus howling, often continued at brief intervals for many hours. This is probably a social habit. Like its northern wolf ancestors, the warrigal cannot bark, but yelps or howls.
Although naturally night hunters, dingoes are often active in the daytime, and especially in remote regions where their arch-enemy, man, seldom appears. They may hunt in pairs, in small packs, or alone. Solitary warrigals are often seen, and sometimes one becomes a killer, so cunning that it avoids traps and poison baits and, eluding the man with a gun, continues its notorious career.
Not Always Cowardly
The warrigal, though generally regarded as a cowardly animal, has sometimes both boldness and courage, and has even been known to attack man in unusual circumstances. Some time in 1941, a Queensland farmer had a lucky escape from a pack of angry dingoes. In an attempt to lessen the menace of warrigals that were maiming calves and attacking cattle weakened by drought conditions, the farmer poisoned the carcase of a cow that had died in a bog. When he revisited the spot, the partially devoured carcase was surrounded by six full-grown dingoes and ten pups, none of which showed any effects of poisoning. Going among them to capture a pup trapped in fallen timber, the man, who was unarmed, was immediately attacked. He only just escaped by hurriedly mounting his scared horse and riding away.
Dingo Pups are Charming
Dingo pups are engaging little animals, as pretty and playful as the pups of any other breed of dogs. They are born late in wintertime or early in spring. In Victoria and South Australia. the breeding season usually extends over August and September. The average litter consists of five, but often the number is eight or nine, and occasionally a dozen pups share the nursery. This may be a disused rabbit warren, a hollow log, a deep rock shelter or even a cavern.
Like all other young animals, dingo pups have natural enemies, among them being the wedge-tailed eagle, carpet snakes and other pythons. An eagle-hawk is capable of killing a full-grown dingo, but usually these great birds prey upon the pups only, which fall easy victims and can be borne away in the killer's talons to be eaten at leisure.