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Dingo

Updated on August 14, 2009

The dingo was the only member of the mammalian order Carnivora in Australia before European colonisation,

In one sense the dingo is not a native mammal of Australia for it was introduced about 10,000 years ago by one of the later groups of Aborigines. The Tasmanian Aborigines did not possess dingoes.

The dingo is close to the line which led from the first domesticated dogs, almost certainly derived from wolves, to the modern dogs but there is controversy about the identity of its closest relatives.

If a dingo pup is captured young enough, it can be trained as a hunting dog or kept as a pet. Wild dingoes, however, destroy great numbers of livestock, and the Australian government is conducting a vigorous campaign against them.

Dingoes are often destroyed by shooting, trapping and poisoning because of the threat they pose to livestock. However when the destruction has been thorough it has sometimes been followed by increases in the number of other animals, such as rabbits; in New England there have been troublesome increases in the number of wallabies after dingo baiting, and in western Queensland feral pigs have become greater pests.

Physical Characteristics

The color of pure-bred dingoes varies but a typical specimen is tawny yellow above with paler underparts and usually with white on the tail-tip and paws. The ears are erect and the general shape is wolf-like. Dingoes in the wild carry their tail at a droop but pet dingoes often hold them erect, exposing the anus, in the manner of domestic dogs but unlike wolves.

The dingo differs from a domestic dog in various small ways: the feet, for example, are relatively large, the teeth are bigger and the last carnassial (shearing) tooth is relatively larger than the others; and dingoes never bark, they howl.


The dingo stands about 24 inches (60 cm) tall at the shoulder and is 3 feet (90 cm) long, not counting its 12 inch (30cm) long bushy tail.

The dingo is found mainly in inland South Australia and New SOuth Wales, the eastern highlands of New South Wales and Victoria, and in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Breeding

Dingoes can interbreed with domestic dogs. Some experts have argued that this rarely, if ever, occurs in the wild but recent research by the CSIRO shows that it is a common occurrence and that there are very few, if any, purebred dingoes left in the Eastern Highlands. Pure-bred dingoes mate between April and June (a little earlier in the north).

The gestation period is about 63 days (the same as that of the domestic dog), and the average litter is five. At other times of the year both sexes are virtually infertile but as a result of interbreeding with domestic dogs some 'dingo' populations now breed at various times of the year. Consequently, some of the resulting packs (of which about 75 per cent are hybrid and include some feral domestic dogs) are larger and more permanent than the normal dingo group, and, consequently, more troublesome.

Pure-bred dingoes are usually solitary but they are known to sometimes hunt in groups of two or three. Grouping often takes place at breeding time when non-mating adults help to raise the pups, or in times of stress when small game is scarce and the animals must take larger prey.

Dingoes still occur throughout most of Australia, apart from the densely populated districts, but the proportion of pure-bred animals is falling constantly. There is now a movement for popularising dingoes (or, as breeders prefer to call them, Australian native dogs) as pets.

References

  • Concise Australian Encyclopaedia, Second Edition, 1986, Angus & Robertson. Page 148.
  • Merit Students Encyclopedia, Volume 6, P.F. Collier Inc, 1979. Page 2. 
  • Australian Encyclopedia, Collins Publishers, 1984. Page 180.

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