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Canis Lupus Dingo on the Precipice of Extinction

Updated on January 22, 2018
Tourists on Fraser Island are warned not to interact with the wild dingoes. A dingo wanders along a sandy beach.
Tourists on Fraser Island are warned not to interact with the wild dingoes. A dingo wanders along a sandy beach. | Source

Icon or Pest?

Kangaroos, koalas, crocodiles, and emus are well-known animals associated with Australia. Despite its role in the historical foundation of our culture, the Australian dingo remains an animal which is both loved as a national icon and despised by as an introduced pest.

Interbreeding with domesticated dogs let wild after Australia's Colonisation in 1788, has changed characteristics of the dingo considerably. The pure breed of the Australian dingo is tarnished by ignorance. Bob Irwin (Australia Zoo) speaking on the plight of the canis lupus dingo believes from his research that only two areas in Australia are now home to the purebred Australian dingo: Fraser Island in Queensland and the Snowy Mountain Range in Victoria.

Plight of the Fraser Island Dingoes with Bob Irwin

The Mystery of the Australian Dingo

Speculation and controversy surround the history of the arrival of the dingo to Australian shores. The dingo's mysterious arrival possibly dates from 3,500 years ago to 12,000 years ago. The most popular and scientifically backed theory on the arrival of the dingo to Australian shores is that it was brought by seafarers from East Asia.

The East Asian origin theory which is based on the discovery of 3,500-year-old skeleton and supported by a study of dingoes mtDNA . The theory suggests dingoes were first introduced to Australia from East Asian Seafarers arriving with humans on boats about 4,000 years ago. (This is despite partial and fragmented bones that have been found and are reported to be much older than 12,000 years old.) It is speculated that the Asian seafarers may have brought the dingo along as a source of food. In many areas, dingoes who are considered direct descendants of the Asian Wolf (hence the use of the Latin name Lupus meaning Wolf), were welcomed into Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal culture with many remaining wild. With the arrival of more settlers throughout the nineteenth century, this close relationship between the Aborigines and dingoes disintegrated.

The close resemblance of the dingo's skeletal anatomy to Indian pariah dogs and wolves, suggests a different theory. This theory coincides with the timeline of backed-blade-stone-tool first appearing in Australia, possibly from India. Scepticism on the introduction of these tools from India does not support this theory of the dingo's arrival from India. It is generally agreed, that as there are no archaeology records for dingoes living in Tasmania, that the dingo may have arrived with the assistance of humans, after Tasmania was cut off from mainland Australia, placing their arrival between 3,500 to about 12,000 years ago.

The theory that the dingo's origins lead back to an Asian breed of dog is strengthened by the shared characteristic of their lack of a bark. It is a well-known characteristic that Australian dingoes howl, that they do not bark. The second and larger study mtDNA testing of the Australian dingo compared the dingo against the Asian wolf and other descendants. The mtDNA findings indicate that Australian dingoes are most likely a unique off-shoot of the Asian wolf, laying between the wolf and the domesticated dog in the evolutionary chain. The mtDNA study suggests that the Australian dingo may have been started from just a few or even one solitary line of dingo.

Captive Australian Dingo at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia
Captive Australian Dingo at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia | Source

Nationally Protected Species or Vermin?

Dingoes share hunting tactics with the Asian wolf. They have been known to sometimes travel in packs and hunt older and weaker animals across the Australian plains. The Australian Aboriginals gave the name to the dingo. Dingo is their word for 'coward', a befitting description for this near descendant of the Asian wolf. While the dingo was known to share the Aborigines' camps, it generally kept its distance, wandering off on their own to hunt small animals or in packs for larger prey.

In colonial texts, settlers were inclined to describe dingoes as "cunning, cowardly and cruel", mainly due to their hunting of sheep, rather than for their "quick-witted, pragmatic, and resourceful" hunting attributes. The dingoes' reputation for cowardice is well known, as is their attribute to kill to survive, preying mostly on livestock when traditional food sources have gone. "Dingo dualisms: Exploring the ambiguous identity of Australian dingoes" (PDF) is an interesting essay that explores the different outlooks upon the dingo represented as both a National Protected Species and as a pest, The latter attribute is particularly supported by the farming lobby and their members. They strongly support the isolation of dingoes believing that they are best suited to National Parks and Wildlife reserves but not on their "private property". Much of the ambiguity about dingoes now lies in distinguishing pure breeds from half-breeds, where domesticated dogs turned wild have interbred with the purebred dingo.

Distinguishing Attributes of the Australian Dingo

Howl, not bark; have a complex vocabulary of howls and purring revealing a strong sense of communication and community, giving rise to obvious evidence of their intelligence
No body odour but they do leave their scent to mark their territories; Colour of fur often depends on where the Dingo lives. The 'standard' coat colour is ginger with white feet. In the desert areas, the fur is more golden yellow while in forested areas the fur can be a darker tan to black. The body fur is short while the tail is quite bushy.
Size Range
Shoulder height: 440-620mm, Body length: 860-1230mm, Tail: 260-380mm, Body mass: 12-24kg.
Breeding Cycle
Once a year. (Whereas, a domesticated or wild dog may breed twice a year.)
Shape, Appearance and other Distinguishing Features
No dew claw on their hind legs. The dingo has a relatively broad head and erect ears, makes the Dingo with canine teeth longer than those of a domestic dog, the dingo's muzzle is also longer and tapered.

Source: Australian Museum

A Tarnished Reputation

It is unfortunate that throughout the history of Australia the reputation of the dingo has been increasingly tarnished by humans. One of the major contributing factors is the increasing number of 'half-dingoes' or wild dogs that bark, strongly resembles and are often mistaken for dingoes. These animals are far more likely to engage with humans in a violent nature and their behaviour is far less predictable. Dingoes are often blamed for attacks on animal stock which are often terrorised before being killed and left to rot. Dingoes are known for killing only what they want to eat. The actions of killing for sport, are more likely to be the actions of the dingo half-breeds and wild dogs introduced into Australia by humans.

More recently a fourth Inquest in 2012 was held into the missing baby Azaria case. Azaria was a nine-week-old baby that was taken from her camping tent in the Northern Territory in the 1980s. The Inquiry found the dingo guilty of the crime. Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton and her ex-husband, Michael Chamberlain had always claimed a dingo took their baby. One of the damning pieces of evidence was that the defence claimed that because a dingo's maw could stretch wide enough to hold fast a human's skull, it was certainly capable of the crime. Though no body was ever found, bloodied but un-torn clothing was found near to a dingo's lair during another police investigation. The coroner in the fourth Inquest believed this was enough evidence to convict the "dingo" for the crime. It is rumoured against more than one article in comments left by readers, that one of the National Park rangers owned a half-breed "dingo" who may have been responsible for the crime but that it was covered up at the time. an independent news media also makes a similar suggestion that it was assumed a dingo took the baby and not a wild dog.

More recently and giving credence to the fourth inquest into the Azaria Chamberlain case are recent fatal and non-fatal attacks by pure bred dingoes on Fraser Island. Fraser Island is a popular tourist destination on the South-east coast of Queensland. it is on Fraser Island where dingoes are isolated from the main land and where other dogs are prohibited. Many believe that this population of dingoes are perhaps one of the last pure breeds in Australia. The attacks by the Fraser Island dingo are not without foundation and prompting. It is well known that tourists and some locals will feed and encourage human contact with the dingoes, an act which is discouraged by wild life officials as being dangerous, leading to fines and possible eviction from Fraser Island. Interaction by a dingo with the public can lead to the dingoes demise, as the dingoes are tagged with identification numbers for ease of recognition.

Dingo Activists Call for Tighter Restrictions on Fraser Island

Dingoes are a wolf, born in the wilds where they have made the Australian outback their home. They are not meant to live in a close proximity with humans despite their ability to easily adapt to domestication. Mistakenly people have fed wild dingoes in tourist destinations like Fraser Island, weakening the natural hunting instincts of the dingo and establishing a dependence for food upon humans. This, in turn has lead to children taunting hungry dingoes at Fraser Island, angering them to the point of attack.

Though it is common for people beyond Australia to assume the kangaroo is our most treasured animal, the dingo has no less a fascinating history and way of life. Though they may not have arrived in Australia with the Aborigines, Australian legislation states that any animal in Australia before colonisation is considered to be an Australian Native and therefore the dingo has protection, but this is often overlooked by State laws which encourage baiting and shooting.

Dingoes are unique and belong to the outback, tying in intricately with Aboriginal culture. Australian settlers wrote about witnessing an Aboriginal woman 'caring' for dingo pups as if they were her own. Dingoes are a beautiful sub-species of wolf who are endangered through the ignorance of humans who have allowed and encouraged interbreeding with domestic dogs. Some of this breeding, in the case of the blue cattle dog, is deliberate. Most of the interbreeding though is the result of domestic dogs gone wild abandoned by their human owners. It is the purebred dingo, the Canis Lupus Dingo whose reputation and name is tarnished due to human interference. Dingoes continue to be hunted and killed for misdoings they did not begin and now their fate lies on the precipice of extinction.

Australian dingoes often solve problems in packs. Above, an Australian dingo enjoys the sun at Taronga Zoo in Sydney,
Australian dingoes often solve problems in packs. Above, an Australian dingo enjoys the sun at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, | Source


His paws race on and on
Under the hot sun
Either be extinct forever
Or the Dingo must run.

By the wild domesticated dogs
His name is damned
Away from the hunters of his hide
His strong legs scram.

For companionship he howls
The bark is not his
Of his name and colour
The hunters are prejudiced.

The Dingo is a coward
And afraid of man
His red coat, a prize
For the murdering clan.

The last of the pure breed
The Dingo is unique
After his bottle brush tail
The slaughterers still sneak.

The Dingo is dying
His numbers decline
Who will save Nature's masterpiece
From the hands of mankind?

© Tina Dubinsky (nee Wells 1988)

Do you know of any other animals that face extinction due to human negligence?

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    • Chantelle Porter profile image

      Chantelle Porter 

      5 years ago from Ann Arbor

      Very interesting article. So many animals are facing extinction due to human intervention. Sad really. Shared.

    • Tinsky profile imageAUTHOR

      Tina Dubinsky 

      6 years ago from Brisbane, Australia

      Hello! They are my favourite Australian animal. Unfortunately the Australian law does not go far enough to protect the Dingo. Even though it has most likely been on this continent for over 3,000 years and evolved into its own unique breed since arriving, it is considered by some Australians to be an introduced species. There has been discussion recently of reintroducing Dingoes into National Parks in Australia (Horchner, 2015 ) where previously they have been shut out, as the ecosystems in these areas have been negatively affected by keeping them out of their natural habitats. (I'll look at adding this reference to the article soon.)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I'm Brazilian and I never saw a dingo in the wild, only at the internet, but I'm fascinated by those animals. They're so beautiful. I know Australia may have a law to protect those animals, but have so many intrigues about this. Of course, those animals were at an increased extinction risk.

    • Tinsky profile imageAUTHOR

      Tina Dubinsky 

      7 years ago from Brisbane, Australia

      Thanks Mel - Three dingoes were unfortunately put down on Fraser Island this week. Reports say a local resort's chef ignored warnings and advice and went outside the fenced area, alone at night to talk to his girlfriend on his phone. He was approached by three dingoes who attacked him. Paramedic on the scene said the person knew he was at fault, but acknowledging fault doesn't bring back the lives of these dingoes.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      7 years ago from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado

      Fascinating article on the dingo. Human folly is to blame in 99 percent of environmental outrages, and I am certain the true dingo is taking the rap for the crimes of people. Great hub!

    • Tinsky profile imageAUTHOR

      Tina Dubinsky 

      8 years ago from Brisbane, Australia

      Thanks for your thoughts. I never actually stated that the Dingo was a wolf, but DNA evidence, bone structure and other scientifically proven facts (follow some of the links in this article to peer reviewed research papers) do agree that the Dingo is a direct descendent of the wolf. The dog comes next in the chain, hence why it was scientifically agreed to remove the familiaris out of the name.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Actually dingoes are not a wolf, but rather an early dog. All the genetic evidence to date suggests that the correct name for dingoes is Canis lupus familiaris dingo.

      Additionally there is strong evidence that there are genetically intact populations of dingo in northern, western and central Australia, the major regions where dingoes face hybridisation are NSW/VIC/QLD where culling/baiting are high (increasing hybridisation as dingo pack structures are broken apart) and incidences of roaming domestic dogs are higher due to ongoing and long term proximity to humans.

      Fraser Island is still important of course, because the dingoes there are thought to be highly genetically intact as well as slightly different to mainland dingoes.

    • Tinsky profile imageAUTHOR

      Tina Dubinsky 

      8 years ago from Brisbane, Australia

      Thanks Seanorjohn for taking such an interest. We (dingo lovers) are trying really hard at present to get the Politicians to take notice before we lose the dingo completely to zoos only. Interbreeding with wild dogs, hunting (I don't understand why tranquilizers can't be used instead of bullets) and the use of 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate) poison (banned in the USA but exported from the USA to Australia), which is very indiscriminate and not only kills other wildlife but also farmers dogs, are really making it hard for the dingo to continue surviving and living in their natural habitat. On Fraser Island, if a dingo comes into any close or physical contact with a human the rangers there will hunt and shoot them (including puppies of late), even when the person was in the wrong by encouraging the dingo to come closer by offering food (usually children). This has come about because of recent dingo attacks on the Island as the dingo is starving in their natural habitat and wildlife that they hunted has also diminished due to human interference caused by tourism and ignorance. Let's hope they hear us before its too late.

    • seanorjohn profile image


      8 years ago

      A truly fascinating study of the dingo. I had no idea that they faced extinction. Australia is such a magical place. The dingo is such a unique creature. I was surprised that it is associated with cowardice.We hear so little of what goes on in Australia in the UK.

    • Tinsky profile imageAUTHOR

      Tina Dubinsky 

      8 years ago from Brisbane, Australia

      Hi Chris, Marie and Alex - thanks for the responses and feedback. Marie, I feel for all who love Dingoes. What happened to Inky was appalling. I am so surprised that despite the knowledge in the early 80's when I first researched and presented my case to a high school class, about the danger of extinction that Dingoes were facing, that almost thirty years later we Dingo lovers are still trying to convince people of their unique heritage and unique DNA make-up that differentiates them from dogs. I've always loved the Dingo, though at most I have only seen them in captivity. I look forward to helping promote their plight and help fight for their survival in their natural habitat, as well as supporting the Aboriginal heritage, culture and customs in which Dingoes and Aborigines are intricately weaved.

    • Chris Neal profile image

      Chris Neal 

      8 years ago from Fishers, IN

      Thanks for the article, it definitely told me some things I didn't know before! Voted up, interesting and useful!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      The smell of Death.Little "Inky” a Fraser Island Aboriginal , Butchulla camp dingo was killed by Queensland Parks & Rangers for nothing on the 30thNov.12. ....QPWS say they have buried Inky and won't give his body back to the Butchulla is a breach of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act. (2003), Section 5 of the Act makes it clear that it is an offence to interfere with indigenous cultural heritage practices. That Inky is buried on an indication of how many dingoes are buried on this Island with many 100’s & more killed ,along with the bodies of the Brumby's , once a part source of food, now all slaughtered. The SMELL OF DEATH must be so disturbing and pungent for the dingoes, whose strong sense of smell is well recorded. How must it be for them to smell the bodies of their dingo pack members and what terror do they now live in at the hands of these custodians who are supposed to protect them? How many more will be destroyed. Having killed 3 healthy future breeding males will they now kill breeding females? That Inky posed no threat to anyone shows QPWS's indifference and mulish stubbornness to listen. “Aunty Mallie a Butchulla elder, remembered how Inky would come up to her to "give her a kiss" or follow her around the camp. It took over 20 Rangers and 2 imported “doggers” to track down and kill Inky. The only reason he was caught was that he was trying frantically to get thru the recently erected fence around the Butchulla K'Gari camp to get back to safety and love of Aunty Mallie and family. The poor pup was terrified”. QPWS and Fraser Coast area Manager stated Inky was humanely destroyed. There is nothing remotely humane at all being shot at or trapped and Valabarb. This is not humane, it's not how your pet is put down, gently and nicely sedated, it is an injection by a ranger,stabbed straight into the heart and is an excruciatingly painful death. There is no vet care on the Island. This is another example, of the quick knee jerk poor decision making. The doubts re the review, does not bode well with the public trust . QPWS uses the terminology “Removing” as opposed to “KILLED" is desensitizing the public to the fact that they are killing dingoes, a typical political move. The term “Habituation” should be replaced with “Accustomed” to give a paradigm shift in thinking .This is a small Island, there are very few places a dingo can go without smelling, hearing or encountering a human and have done so for 100’s of years. Marie-Louise Sarjeant.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I'd take my chances with the Dingoes over a Grizzly any day. Poor fellas definitely get a bad rap.. thanks for the info.


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