Australian dingo
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammal
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: C. lupus
Subspecies: C. l. dingo
Trinomial name
Canis lupus dingo
(Meyer, 1793)
Dingo range

antarcticus (Kerr, 1792), Canis australasiae (Desmarest, 1820), Canis australiae (Gray, 1826), Canis dingoides (Matschie, 1915), Canis macdonnellensis (Matschie, 1915), Canis novaehollandiae (Voigt, 1831), Canis papuensis (Ramsay, 1879), Canis tenggerana (Kohlbrugge, 1896), Canis harappensis (Prashad, 1936), Canis hallstromi (Troughton, 1957)

The Australian Dingo or Warrigal is a free-roaming wild dog unique to the continent of Australia, mainly found in the outback. Its original ancestors are thought to have arrived with humans from southeast Asia thousands of years ago, when dogs were still relatively undomesticated and closer to their wild Asian gray wolf parent species, Canis lupus. Since then, living largely apart from people and other dogs, together with the demands of Australian ecology, has caused them to develop features and instincts that distinguish them from all other canines. Dingoes have maintained ancient characteristics that unite them, along with other primitive dogs, into a taxon named after them, Canis lupus dingo, and has separated them from the domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris.

Dingoes play an important role in Australia's ecosystems; they are apex predators and the continent's largest terrestrial predator.

Because of their attacks on livestock, dingoes and other wild dogs are seen as pests by the sheep industry and the resultant control methods normally run counter to dingo conservation efforts. Today, it is estimated that the majority of the modern "dingoes" are also descended from other domestic dogs. The number of these so-called dingo hybrids has increased significantly over the last decades, and the dingo is therefore now classified as vulnerable.



The dingo has several names in both scientific and non-scientific literature, of which the word dingo is the most common term. Furthermore, on the Australian continent, the term wild dog is now used very often in both areas. In most cases this term includes dingoes, dingo-hybrids, and all other feral dogs.[3][4]

Scientific name

Since its first official nomenclature in 1792 (Canis antarcticus), the scientific name of the dingo has changed several times.[2]

Current taxonomy classifies the Australian dingo, together with its closest relatives outside of Australia, as Canis lupus dingo, a subspecies of gray wolf separate from the familiar common dog, Canis lupus familiaris, while still united with familiaris as intra-taxonomic clade called "[domestic dog]".[2] An older taxonomy, used throughout most of the twentieth century, applied the epithet Canis familiaris dingo to the Dingo. This taxonomy assumed domestic dogs to be a distinct species from the gray wolf, with the Dingo classified as a subspecies of domestic dog. Furthermore, the terms "Canis dingo",[5][6] which classifies the dingo as a separate species from both dogs and wolves, and "Canis lupus familiaris var. "dingo"", which treats the dingo as a variety of the domesticated subspecies of Gray Wolf; are in use.[7]

Colloquial name

The most common name in the colloquial language is "dingo". This term originated in the early times of European colonization in New South Wales and is most likely derived from the word "tingo", used by the aboriginal people of Port Jackson for their camp dogs.[8] Depending on the area where they live, the dingoes in Australia are occasionally called alpine dingoes, desert dingoes, northern dingoes, Cape York dingoes, or tropical dingoes. In recent times people have begun to call them "Australian native dogs"[9] or, reasoning that they are a subspecies of Canis lupus, an "Australian wolf".[10]

The dingo also has different names in the multitude of different Indigenous Australian languages. Those names include Joogong, Mirigung, Noggum, Boolomo, Papa-Inura, Wantibirri, Maliki, Kal, Dwer-da, Kurpany, Aringka, Palangamwari, Repeti and Warrigal.[3] Some languages provide for different names for the dingoes depending on where they live; the Yarralin, for instance, call the dingoes that live with them Walaku and the ones living in the wilderness Ngurakin.[11]


Domestic and Pariah dogs in southern Asia share so many characteristics with Australian Dingoes that experts now consider them to be, if not "Dingoes" in the Australian sense of the word (which implies an independent, wild animal, integrated into the ecosystem), members of the taxon Canis lupus dingo, a particular subspecies of Canis lupus. While the relationship with humans varies widely among these animals, they are all quite similar in terms of physical features.[12]

Dingo skull illustrated by Frédéric Cuvier. As is typical in domestic dogs, the dingo's relative brain size is smaller than that of all non-domesticated subspecies of wolves, being almost identical in size to that of dogs considered to be Canis lupus familiaris.[13]

Dingoes have a relatively broad head, a pointed muzzle, and erect ears. Eye colour varies from yellow over orange to brown.[14] Compared to other similarly sized familiaris dogs, dingoes have longer muzzles, larger carnassials, longer canine teeth, and a flatter skull with larger nuchal lines.[8]

The average Australian Dingo is 52 to 60 cm (20 to 24 in) tall at the shoulders and measures 117 to 154 cm (46 to 61 in) from nose to tail tip. The average weight is 13 to 20 kg (29 to 44 lb), however there are a few records of outsized dingos weighing up to 27 to 35 kg (60 to 77 lb).[15][16] Males are typically larger and heavier than females of the same age. Dingoes from the North and the North-West of Australia are larger than Central and South-Australian populations. Australian dingoes are invariably heavier than Asian ones.[3] The legs are about half the length of the body and the head put together. The hind feet make up a third of the hind legs and have no dewclaws.[3] Dingoes can have sabre-form tails (typically carried erect with a curve towards the back) or tails which are carried directly on the back.[14]


Typical dingo colouration
A white dingo

The fur of an adult dingo is short, bushy on the tail, and varies in thickness and length depending on the climate. The fur colour is mostly sandy to reddish brown, but can include tan patterns and be occasionally black, light brown, or white. Completely black dingoes were probably prevalent in Australia in the past, but have been sighted only rarely in recent times and are now more common in Asia than in Australia.[8]

Most dingoes are at least bicoloured, with small white markings on the chest, muzzle, tag, legs, and paws being the most common feature. In the case of reddish individuals, there can be small, distinctive, and dark stripes on the shoulders. All other colour and colour-patterns on adult dingoes are regarded as evidence for interbreeding with other domestic dogs.[3]


Like all domestic dogs, dingoes tend towards a phonetic communication, the difference being that they howl and whimper more and bark less than domestic dogs. During research, eight sound classes with 19 sound types could be concretized.[17]


It is often wrongly asserted that dingoes do not bark. Compared to most other domestic dogs, the bark of a dingo is short and monosyllabic. During observations, the barking of Australian dingoes revealed itself to have a relatively small variability, and the sub-groups of barking characteristic of domestic dogs could not be found. Furthermore, only 5% of the observed vocalisations were made up of barking. Australian dingoes bark only in swooshing noises or in a mixture atonal/tonal. Also, barking is almost exclusively used for giving warnings. Warn-barking in a homotypical sequence and a kind of "warn-howling" in a heterotypical sequence has also been observed. The bark-howling starts with several barks and then fades into a rising and ebbing howl and is probably, similarly to coughing, used to warn the puppies and members of the pack. Additionally, dingoes emit a sort of "wailing" sound, which they mostly use when approaching a water hole, probably to warn already present dingoes.[3]

According to the present state of knowledge, it is not possible to get Australian dingoes to bark more frequently by having them in contact with other domestic dogs. However Alfred Brehm reported a dingo that completely learned the more "typical" form of barking and knew how to use it, while its brother did not.[18] Whether dingoes bark or bark-howl less frequently in general is not certain.[17]


Captive dingoes howling

Dingoes have three basic forms of howling (moans, bark-howl, and snuffs) with at least 10 variations. Usually there are three kinds of howls distinguished: long and persistent, rising and ebbing, and short and abrupt.

Observations have shown that every kind of howling has several variations, though their meanings are unknown. The frequency of howling varies depending on season and time of day, and is also influenced by breeding, migration, lactation, social stability, and dispersal behaviour. Also, howling can be more frequent in times of food shortage, because the dogs become more widely distributed within their home range.[3] Additionally howling seems to have a group-function and is sometimes an expression of joy (for example, greeting-howls). Overall howling was observed less frequently than among grey wolves. It can happen that one dog starts to howl and several or all other dogs howl back and bark from time to time. In the wilderness, dingoes howl over long distances to attract other members of the pack, to find other dogs, and to keep intruders at bay. Dingoes howl in chorus with significant pitches and with increasing number of pack-members the variability of pitches also increases[19] Therefore it is suspected that dingoes can measure the size of a pack without visual contact.[8] Moreover, it has been proposed that their highly variable chorus howls may generate a confounding effect in the receivers by making pack size appear larger.[20]

Other forms of communication

During observations, growling made up 65% of the observed vocalizations. It was always used in an agonistic context, as well as for dominance and as a defensive sound. Similar to many other domestic dogs, a reactive usage of defensive growling could only be observed rarely or not at all. Growling very often occurs in combination with other sounds, and was observed almost exclusively in swooshing noises (similar to barking).[17]

During observations in Germany, there was a sound found among Australian dingoes which the observers called "Schrappen". It was only observed in an agonistic context, mostly as a defense against obtrusive cubs or for defending resources. It was described as a bite intention, where the receiver is never touched or hurt. Only a clashing of the teeth could be heard.[17]

Aside from vocal communication, dingoes communicate like all domestic dogs via scent marking specific objects (for example, Spinifex) or places (waters, trails, hunting grounds, and so forth) using chemical signals from their urine, feces, and scent glands. Males scent-mark more frequently than females, especially during the mating season. They also scent-rub whereby a dog rolls on its neck, shoulders, or back on something that is usually associated with food or the scent markings of other dogs.[3]

Unlike wolves, dingoes can react to social cues and gestures from humans.[21]


Dingoes are often nocturnal in warmer regions, but more active during the day in cooler areas. Their main time of activity is around dusk and dawn. The periods of activity are short (often less than one hour) with short times of resting. They have two kinds of movement: a searching movement, apparently associated with hunting, and an exploratory movement, probably for contact and communication with other dogs.[22][23]

In general, dingoes are shy towards humans. However, there are reports of dingoes that were not impressed by the presence of humans, for instance around camps in national parks, near streets or suburbs.[15][24] According to studies in Queensland, the wild dogs there move freely at night through urban areas and cross streets and seem to get along quite well.[25]

Dietary habits

170 species (from insects to buffalo) have been identified as being part of the dingo diet. In general, livestock seems to make up only a small proportion of their diet.[3] In continent-wide examinations, 80% of the diet of wild dogs consisted of 10 species: Red Kangaroo, Swamp Wallaby, cattle, Dusky Rat, Magpie Goose, Common Brushtail Possum, Long-haired Rat, Agile Wallaby, European rabbit and the Common Wombat. This narrow range of major prey indicates that wild dogs are rather specialized,[8] but in the tropical rain forests of North-Eastern Australia dingoes are supposed to be opportunistic hunters of a wide range of mammals.[26] In certain areas, they tend to specialize on the most common prey, with a preference for medium to large sized mammals. The consumption of domestic cats has also been proven.[27] Non mammalian prey is irregularly eaten and makes up only 10% of the dingo's diet. Big reptiles are only rarely captured, at least in Eastern Australia, although they are widespread. It is possible that especially big Monitor Lizards are too defensive and well armed or simply able to flee fast enough into dens or climb trees.[8]

A dingo near the Dingo Fence

Dietary composition varies from region to region. In the gulf region of Queensland, feral pigs and Agile Wallabies are the dingo's main prey. In the rain forests of the North the main prey consists of Magpie-Geese, rodents and Agile Wallabies. In the southern regions of the Northern-Territory, the dogs mainly eat European rabbits, rodents, lizards, and Red Kangaroo; in arid central Australia rabbits, rodents, lizards, Red Kangaroo, and cattle carcass; and in the dry North-West Eastern Wallaroos and Red Kangaroo. In the deserts of the South-West they primarily eat rabbits and in the eastern and south-eastern highlands wallabies, possums, and wombats. To what extent the availability of rabbits influences the composition of the diet could not be clarified. However because Rabbit hemorrhagic disease killed a large part of the Australian rabbit population at the end of the 20th century, it is suspected that the primary prey of the dogs has changed in the affected areas. Also, on Fraser Island, fish were proven to be a part of the dingo diet. However the main prey species were Bandicoots and several rodents. They also ate a lot of echidnas, crabs, small skinks, fruits, and other plants, as well as insects (mostly beetles). During these observations only 10% of the examined feces-samples contained human garbage (in earlier studies 50% were reported).[8]

When scavenging for food, wild dogs (we presume the author is referring to all dogs free to roam, not just dingoes) primarily eat cattle and kangaroo carcasses. Dingoes in coastal regions regularly patrol the coast for dead fish, seals, penguins, and other washed up birds.[8]

Dingoes in general drink one liter of water a day in the summer and about half a liter a day in winter. During the winter in arid regions, dingoes could potentially live from the liquid in the bodies of their prey, as long as the number of prey is sufficient. Similarly, weaned cubs in central Australia are able to draw their necessary amount of liquid from their food. There, regurgitation of water by the bitches for the cubs was observed. During lactation, females have no higher need of water than usual, since they consume the urine and feces of the cubs and therefore recycle the water and keep the den clean.[8]

Hunting behaviour

Dingoes often kill by biting the throat and adjust their hunting strategies to suit circumstances. For bigger prey, due to their strength and potential danger, two or more individuals are needed. Such group formations are unnecessary when hunting rabbits or other small prey.[8]

Kangaroo hunts are probably more successful in open areas than in places with high densities of vegetation, and juvenile kangaroos are killed more often than adults. Dingoes typically hunt large kangaroos by having lead dingoes chase the quarry toward their waiting pack mates, which are skilled at cutting corners in chases. In one area of Central Australia, dingoes hunted kangaroos by chasing them toward a wire fence which would hinder their escape.[28] Birds can be captured when they do not fly or fail to take off fast enough. Dingoes also steal the prey of eagles and the coordinated attack of three dingoes for killing a large monitor lizard was observed.[29] On Fraser Island, dingoes supposedly hunted and killed horses in coordinated attacks.[30] Additionally, active fishing has been proven on the island. There are also reports which state that some dingoes virtually live entirely on human food through stealing, scavenging, or begging. In fact dingoes are well-known for such a behaviour in some parts of Australia. It is suspected that this might cause the loss of hunting strategies or a change in the social structures.[31]

During studies at the Fortescue River in the mid 1970s, it was observed how most of the studied dingoes learned to hunt and kill sheep very quickly, even when they never had prior contact with sheep. Although the dingoes killed many sheep at that time, they still killed and ate kangaroos. During the early 1990s, wild dogs were observed to have an extraordinarily high success rate when killing sheep and did not have to hunt in a coordinated manner to achieve this. Often a dog only chases and outruns a single sheep, just to turn away suddenly and chase another. Therefore, only a small proportion of the hurt or killed sheep and goats are also eaten which seems to be the rule and not the exception. The dog probably falls into some kind of "killing spree", due to the rather panicked and uncontrolled flight behaviour of the sheep, who run in front of the dingoes time and again and therefore cause one attack after another. Dingoes often attack sheep from behind during the sheep's flight, which causes injuries on the sheep's hind legs. Rams are normally attacked from the side – probably to avoid the horns – or sometimes on the testicles. Inexperienced dingoes or those who kill "for fun", sometimes cause significant damage on the sheep's hind legs, which often causes death.[32][33]

Nearly all dingo attacks on cattle and Water Buffalo are directed against calves. Hunting success depends on the health and condition of the adult cattle and on their ability to defend their calves. The defense behaviour of the mother can be sufficient to fend off an attack. Therefore the basic tactics of attacks are: distracting the mother, rousing the herd/group and waiting (sometimes for hours), and testing of the herd to find the weakest members. While locating a cattle herd, it could be observed how the dingoes made several feint attacks, at which they concentrated on the calves at first and, later on, attacked the mothers to distract them. Thereupon, the dingoes retreated and waited at a distance from the herd, until the rest of the cows had gathered their calves and moved on. During another occasion of an attack, "sub-groups" of a dingo-pack were observed to take turns in attacking and resting, until the mother was too tired to effectively defend her calf. It was also observed how dingoes hunting a water buffalo with an estimated weight of 200 kg took turns in biting the buffalo's legs during the chase.[8][34]

Social behaviour

Although dingoes are usually seen alone (especially in areas where they are persecuted), most belong to a social group whose members meet from time to time and are temporarily together during the mating season in order to breed and raise pups. Dingoes are generally highly social animals and form, where possible, stable packs with clearly defined territories, which only rarely overlap with the territories of neighbouring packs. Intruders are mostly killed. These packs as a rule consist of 3–12 individuals (mostly the alpha-pair, as well as the current litter and the previous year's litter), who occupy a territory throughout the whole year. However, there are regional variants which show the flexible social structure of the dingo. Apparently, specialization on bigger prey boosts social behaviour and the formation of bigger groups. During times of drought, packs in Australia fragment and the mortality rate of all the members, regardless of social status, is very high.

Packs have different (but not completely separate) hierarchies for males and females, and the ranking order is mostly established through ritualized aggression, especially among males. Overawing and agonistic behaviour occurs only in a reduced state among Australian dingoes. Serious fights could only be observed rarely and under extreme circumstances. Dogs of higher rank show this behaviour from time to time, to confirm their status, while those of lower rank are more prone to show conflict-preventive behaviour.

Bigger packs are often splintered into sub-groups of flexible size. Additionally, lone individuals can occur in already occupied areas and can have loose contact with the groups, including participation in foraging for food. Desert areas have smaller groups of dingoes with a more loose territorial behaviour and sharing of the water sites.[35] On Fraser Island, dingoes had pack sizes of two to nine dogs with overlapping territories. However, they had a very high rate of infanticide, probably due to the high density of the island's dingo-population when compared to the size of the island and prey population. Territory size and individual areas change over time depending on the availability of prey, but are not connected to pack size. Wild dogs only rarely move outside of their territories. The areas of individuals can overlap. When territories of neighbouring packs overlap, the packs tend to avoid contact. How big the territory and home range of dogs are depends for the most part on the availability of prey. Home ranges are generally stable, but can change over time due to outside circumstances or changes in social organization. Individuals who start to detach themselves from the pack have bigger home ranges at first before they finally disperse.

Territories around human dominated areas tend to be smaller and contain a relatively higher number of dingoes due to the better availability of food. According to studies in Queensland, the local wild dogs in urban areas have smaller territories of occasionally only two to three square-kilometers in diameter. There, the existence of a territory of a single dingo could be proven, which only consisted of a small patch of bush near the fringe of a primary school in the heart of a small town.

Most dingoes stay near their area of birth and do not travel more than 20 km per day, but some, especially young males, disperse. The size of the individual home range increases with age. The biggest recorded home ranges (90–300 km2) came from the deserts of Southwest-Australia. In the center of the Northern Territory home ranges of up to 270 km2 were observed.[36] Home ranges in other parts of the continent can be 45–113 km2 in the Northwest, 25–67 km2 in Central Australia, on average 3 km2 in the tropic North and 10–27 km2 in the forests of the Eastern mountains.


Dingo-pups from the Tierpark Berlin

Dingoes breed once annually, depending on the estrus-cycle of the females who, according to most sources, only come in heat once per year. Dingo females can come in heat twice per year, but can only be pregnant once a year, with the second time only seeming to be pregnant (at most).[37][38]

Males are virile throughout the year in most regions, but have a lower sperm production during the summer in most cases. During studies on dingoes from the Eastern Highlands and Central Australia in captivity, no breeding cycle could be observed. All were potent throughout the year. The breeding was only regulated by the heat of the females. There was a rise in testosterone in the males during the breeding season, however this was attributed to the heat of the females and copulation. In contrast to the captive dingoes, captured dingo males from Central Australia did show evidence of a male breeding cycle. Those dingoes showed no interest in females in heat (this time other domestic dogs) outside of the mating season (January to July) and did not breed with them.[39]

The mating season usually occurs in Australia between March and May (according to other sources between April and June). In Southeast Asia, mating occurs between August and September. During this time dingoes may actively defend their territory using vocalizations, dominance behaviour, growling, and barking.[8]

Most females in the wild start breeding at the age of two years, and within packs the alpha-female tends to go into heat before the subordinates and will actively suppress the mating attempts of the other females. Males become sexually mature between the age of 1–3 years. The precise start of breeding varies depending on age, social status, geographic range, and seasonal conditions. Among dingoes in captivity, the pre-estrus was observed to last 10–12 days. However, it is suspected that the pre-estrus may last as long as 60 days in the wild.[3]

A male dingo with his pups

In general, the only dingoes in a pack that successfully breed are the alpha-pair and the other pack-members help with raising the pups. Subordinates are actively prevented from breeding by the alpha-pair and some subordinate females have a false pregnancy. Low ranking or solitary dingoes can successfully breed if the pack structure breaks up.[36]

The gestation period lasts for 61–69 days and the size of the litter can range from one to ten cubs (usually five cubs), with the number of the males tending to be higher than that of the females. Pups of subordinate females usually get killed by the alpha-female, which causes the population increase to be low even in good times. It is possible that this behaviour developed as an adaptation to the fluctuating environmental conditions in Australia. Pups are usually born between May and August (the winter period) but in tropical regions, breeding can occur at any time of the year.[3]

At the age of three weeks, the pups leave the den for the first time and will leave it completely upon reaching the age of eight weeks. In Australia, dens are mostly underground. There are reports of dens in abandoned rabbit burrows, rock-formations, under boulders in dry creeks, under large spinifex, in hollow logs, in augmented burrows of monitor lizards, and wombat burrows. The pups usually stray around the den within a radius of 3 km and are accompanied by older dogs during longer travels. The transition to consuming solid food is normally accompanied by all members of the pack during the age of nine to twelve weeks. Apart from their own experiences, pups also learn through observation.[40] Young dingoes usually become independent at the age of three to six months or they voluntarily disperse at the age of twelve months when the next mating season starts.


Dingoes usually remain in one area and do not undergo seasonal migrations. However, during times of famine, even in normally "safe" areas, dingoes travel into pastoral areas, where intensive human-induced control measures are undertaken. It was already noted in Western Australia in the 1970s that young dogs can travel for long distances when necessary. About 10% of the dogs who were captured back then – all younger than twelve months – were later recaptured far away from their first position. Among these, 10% of the travelled distance for males was 21.7 km and for females 11 km.[41] Therefore, travelling dingoes had lower chances of survival in foreign territories and it was assumed to be unlikely that they would survive long migrations through occupied territories. The rarity of long migration routes seemed to confirm this assumption. During investigations in the Nullarbor Plain, even longer migration routes were recorded. The longest recorded migration route of a radio collared dingo was about 250 km.

Mortality and health

In the wild, dingos live an average of 5 to 10 years. In captivity, dingos live an average of 13 to 15 years.[9] Cases in which dingos in captivity have survived for up to 24 years have been recorded.[14]

The main causes of death for dingos are killings by humans, crocodiles, and dogs, including other dingoes. Other causes of death include starvation and dehydration during times of drought or after strong bush fires, infanticide, snake bites, killing of cubs by Wedge-tailed eagles, and injuries caused by cattle and buffalo.

Dingoes are susceptible to the same diseases as domestic dogs. At present, 38 species of parasites and pathogens have been detected in Australian dingoes. The bulk of these diseases have a minimal influence on the survival of the dingo. The exceptions include canine distemper, hookworms, and heart worms in North-Australia and southeastern Queensland. Cubs can also be killed by lungworms, whipworms, hepatitis, coccidiosis, lice, and ticks. Sarcoptic mange is a widespread parasitic disease among the dingoes of Australia, but is seldom debilitating. Free roaming dogs are the primary host of Echinococcosis-tapeworms and have an infection rate of 70 to 90%.

Present day distribution

It is only possible to give a crude description of the dingo's distribution area and the accordant population density. It is difficult to give an exact assessment of the distribution of dingoes and other domestic dogs, since the exact extent of interbreeding between the two is not known. Therefore the following information on the distribution of the dingo applies to dogs which were classified as dingoes based on fur-colour, body-form, and breeding-cycle, therefore the maps on their distribution might be conflicting.

Distribution in the past

Based on fossil, molecular, and anthropogenic evidence, it is assumed that dingoes once might have had a widespread distribution. These ancient dingoes would have associated to nomadic hunter-gatherer-societies and later with the rising agricultural centers. It is further assumed that they would have been tamed there and were then transported to various places in the world. Dingo-findings from Thailand and Vietnam are regarded as the oldest findings, which have been estimated to be respectively as old as 5,000–5,500 years. The age of findings from the highlands of Indonesia vary between a maximum of 5,000 to (in most cases) 2,500 to 3,000 years.

The first ever European illustration of a dingo, from Arthur Phillip's Voyage to Botany Bay in 1789. The pictured specimen was a female taken alive by Governor Phillip and given to the Marquess of Salisbury, at Hatfield House.[42]

Originally, it was suspected that the dingo was introduced to Australia in the Pleistocene by Aborigines, which led to confusion concerning the dingo's nomenclature. Today, the most common theory is that the dingo arrived in Australia about 4,000 years ago, because the oldest known fossils of dingoes were estimated to be about 3,500 years old and were found in various places in Australia, which indicates a rapid colonization. Findings are absent from Tasmania, which was separated from the main Australian landmass around 12,000 years ago due to a rise in sea level. Therefore, archeological data indicates an arrival between 3,500 to a maximum of 12,000 years ago. To reach Australia from Asia, there would have been at least 50 km of open sea to be crossed, even at the lowest sea level. Since there is no known case of a big land animal who made such a journey by itself, it is most likely that the ancestors of modern dingoes were brought to Australia on boats by Asian seafarers.[43] A dance of the Aborigines on the coastal regions of the Kimberley, during which they depict dogs running excitedly up and down a boat and finally jumping into the water, is seen as further evidence for the introduction of dingoes by seafarers.[44] It is possible that these dogs were used as food or eventually guard dogs. Potentially, the dingo came to Australia and the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific in the course of expansion of the Austronesian culture.

Theoretical dingo migration routes

There are two main theories concerning the geographical origin and travel routes of the modern dingo's ancestors and their arrival in Australia:[45]

  • An East-Asian origin and a travel route over the Southeast-Asian islands due to their close proximity to Australia, and the relatively easy accessibility over the islands of the Southeast-Asian archipelago. This theory is supported by examination of the mtDNA of Australian dingoes.[43]
  • An introduction of sheepdogs from the Indus valley in Asia, over Timor by Indian seafarers, based on similarities in skeletal anatomy of Indian pariah dogs and Iranian wolves. Moreover, this theory implies that the oldest known fossils are 4,000 years old and were found on Timor, where the dogs coexisted for a while with pigs and sheep. This theory would be supported by the assumption that the simultaneous appearance of certain stone tools was caused by Indian influence. However this is disputed by other authorities.

Whether there were several introductions of dingoes to Australia or just one is not known yet.

The first official report of a "wild dog" in Australia comes from the year 1699 from Captain William Dampier.[46] At the time, dingoes were probably widespread over the main part of the continent and lived in the wild as well as alongside the Aboriginals. They were mostly tolerated by the European settlers and sometimes kept as pets. The number of dingoes was probably low in those times and increased since then in some parts of Australia. Their number probably increased strongly around the 1880s due to the establishment of the pastoral economy and artesian water places and probably had its peak in the 1930s and 1950s. Afterwards the numbers have remained high, but the percentage of dingo-hybrids has significantly increased since then.


Possible distribution of the dingo (red). The red area in Papua New Guinea shows the possible distribution of the Hallstrom dogs.

Today dingoes live in all kinds of habitats, including the snow-covered mountain forests of Eastern Australia, dry hot deserts of Central Australia, and Northern Australia's tropical forest wetlands. The absence of dingoes in many parts of the Australian grasslands is probably caused by human persecution. Based on skull characteristics, size, fur colour, and breeding cycles there could be distinct regional populations between Australia and Asia, but not in Australia.[3][8]

Distribution map of Australian dingoes. The black line represents the Dingofence (after Fleming et al 2001).

Today the whole population of wild dogs on the Australian continent consists, besides dingoes, of a wide panoply of feral domestic dogs (mostly mixed-breeds and dingo-hybrids) with an enormous variety of colours. Due to the increased availability of water, native and introduced prey, as well as livestock and human provided food, the number of wild dogs is regarded as increasing. There are reports from some parts of Australia stating that wild dogs now hunt in packs there, although they had hunted on a solitary basis before.[47] The density of the wild dog population varies between 0.003 and 0.3% per square kilometre, depending on habitat and availability of prey.[8]

"Pure"[48] dingoes are regarded as widespread in Northern, Northwest, and Central Australia; rare in Southern and Northeast Australia; and possibly extinct in the South-Eastern and South-Western areas. The establishment of agriculture caused a significant decrease in dingo numbers and they were practically expelled from the territories occupied by the sheep industry. This primarily affects big parts of Southern Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. This situation was maintained by the construction of the Dingo Fence. Although dingoes were eradicated from most areas south of the Dingo Fence, they still exist in an area of about 58,000 km2 in the dry Northern areas north of the Dingo Fence and therefore on about 60% of the whole area. In Victoria, wild dog populations are currently concentrated on the densely forested areas of the Eastern Highlands, from the border to New South Wales southern to Healesville and Gembrook. They also exist in the large desert in the Northwest of the state. Wild dog populations in New South Wales primarily exist along the Great Dividing Range and the Hinterlands on the coast, as well as in the Sturt National Park in the Northwest of the state. In the rest of the continent dingoes are regarded as widespread, with the exception of the arid eastern half of Western Australia. In the bordering areas of South Australia and the Northern Territory they are regarded as naturally scarce. Wild dogs are widespread in the Northern Territory, with the exception of the Tanami and Simpson Desert, where they are rare due to the lack of watering holes. However, local concentrations exist there near artificial water sources. According to DNA-examinations from the year 2004, the dingoes of Fraser Island are "pure".[49] However, skull measurements from the mid 1990s had a different result.[50]

Outside of Australia, dingoes were proven to exist in Thailand, based on comparisons between the skulls of Thai dogs and those of fossil and present-day dingoes. The population there probably has the biggest proportion of "pure" dingoes. They are widespread in Northern and Central Thailand and rare in the southern regions. They may also exist in Burma, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, on the Philippines, and in Vietnam, but if they exist there, their distribution is unknown. Dingoes are regarded as widespread in Sulawesi, but their distribution in the rest of Indonesia is unknown. They are regarded as rare on the Philippines and are probably extinct on many islands. In Korea, Japan, and Oceania there exist a few local dog breeds with dingo-like features, but dingoes are considered extinct there.[3]

Ecological impact of the dingo after its arrival in mainland Australia

It is suspected that the dingo caused the extinction of the thylacine, the Tasmanian Devil, and the Tasmanian Native-hen from mainland Australia, since there is a correlation in space and time between the arrival of the dingo and the extinctions of these species. However, dingoes do not seem to have had the same ecological impact the Red Fox had in later times. This might be connected to the dingo's way of hunting and the size of their favored prey, as well as the low number of dingoes in the time before European colonization.[51]

The assumption that dingoes and thylacines may have been competitors for the same prey stems from the external similarities of the two species: the thylacine had a stronger and more efficient bite, but was probably dependent on relatively small prey, while the dingo's stronger skull and neck would have allowed it to bring down bigger prey.[52] The dingo was probably a superior hunter, as it hunted cooperatively in packs and could better defend resources, while the thylacine was probably more solitary. Also, wild dingo populations might have had demographic support from conspecifics living with humans and may have introduced new diseases which affected the thylacine more severely[citation needed]. The extinction of the thylacine on the continent around 2000 years ago has also been linked with changes in climate and land use of the Aborigines. It is plausible to name the dingo as the cause of the extinction, but there are significant morphological differences between the two, which suggest that the ecological overlapping of both species might be exaggerated: the dingo has the dentition of a generalist, while the thylacine had the dentition of a specialist carnivore without any signs of consumption of carrion or bones. It is also argued that the thylacine was a flexible predator that should have withstood the competition by the dingo and was instead wiped out due to human persecution[citation needed].

This theory also has problems with explaining how the Tasmanian Devil and the dingo coexisted on the same continent until about 430 years ago, when the dingo supposedly caused the Tasmanian Devil's demise. The group dynamics of dingoes should have successfully kept devils away from carrion, and since dingoes are able to break bones there would have been little left for the devils to scavenge upon. Additionally, devils are successful hunters of small to medium sized prey so there should have been an overlapping of the species in this area too. Furthermore, the arguments that the dingo caused the extinction of the thylacine, the devil and the hen are in direct conflict with each other. If the dingo was really so similar to the thylacine and the Tasmanian Devil in its ecological role and suppressed both, it is strange that the hen coexisted with both for such an extended time. Although this is a possible result of the Dingo's introduction, critics regard the evidence for this as insubstantial.[53]


Reliable information about the exact ecological, cultural, and economical impact of wild dogs does not exist yet. Furthermore, the impact of wild dogs depends on several factors and a distinction between dingoes and other domestic dogs is not necessarily made.

The appearance of a wild dog is not adverse (and in fact is beneficial) for its ecological impact. Here it is important what a dog does, and therefore what its place in the ecosystem is. In contrast to this the appearance of a wild dog is sometimes very important when it comes to the cultural and economical impact. Here it is often desired that the wild dog's appearance complies to what is demanded, that it is a "pure" dingo or at least looks like one.[54] In case of their economic impact their appearance only seem to be important when "pure" dingoes are used as a tourist attraction. Where wild dogs are regarded as pests their appearance is only of minor importance, if it is of any importance at all.

The impact wild dogs have in urban areas and whether they are a danger to humans (direct attacks, diseases, and more) is unknown yet.

Ecological impact

Today the dingo is regarded as part of the native Australian fauna by environmentalists as well as biologists, especially since these dogs existed on the continent before the arrival of the Europeans and a mutual adaption of the dingoes and their surrounding ecosystems had occurred. However there is also the contrary view that dingoes are just another introduced predator respectively and that they are only native to Thailand.[55]

Much of the present day place of wild dogs in the Australian ecosystem and especially in the urban areas remains unknown. Although the ecological role of dingoes in Northern and Central Australia is well understood, the same does not apply to the role of wild dogs in the East of the continent. In contrast to some claims[56] it was undoubtedly disproven that dingoes are damaging to the Australian ecosystem in general. In most cases it is assumed that they have a positive impact.

Dingoes are regarded as apex predators and possibly perform an ecological key function. Therefore it is likely (with increasing evidence from scientific research) that they control the diversity of the ecosystem by limiting the number of prey and keeping the competition in check. Wild dogs hunt feral livestock like goats and pigs, as well as native prey and introduced animals. It is possible that the low number of feral goats in Northern Australia is caused by the presence of the dingoes, however whether they control the goats' numbers or not is still disputable. Studies from the year 1995 in the northern wet forests of Australia came to the conclusion that the dingoes there did not reduce the number of feral pigs but that their predation only has an impact on the pig population together with the presence of water buffalos (which hinder the pigs' access to food).[57]

There were observations concerning the mutual impact of dingoes and fox and cat populations and evidence that dingoes limit the access of foxes and cats to certain resources. Therefore it is assumed, that a disappearance of the dingoes may cause an increase of Red Fox and feral cat numbers and therefore a higher pressure on native animals. During studies it was found out that the presence of dingoes is one of the factors that keep the fox numbers in an area low and therefore reduces the pressure on native animals which then do not have to disappear from the area. It could be proven that the countrywide numbers of Red Foxes are especially high where dingo numbers are low, however it was considered that there might be other factors responsible for this, depending on the area.[27] There was evidence found for a competition between wild dogs and Red Foxes in the Great Blue Mountains of New South Wales, since there were many overlaps in spectrum of preferred prey. However, there was only evidence for a local competition not on a grand scale.[58] It is also possible that dingoes can live side to side with Red Foxes and feral cats without reducing their numbers in areas with sufficient food resources (for example, high rabbit numbers) and hiding places. Nearly nothing is known about the relationship of wild dogs and feral cats, except that both mostly live in the same areas. Although wild dogs also eat cats, it is not known whether this has an impact on the cat populations.[27] In many areas wild dogs live together with the most species of quolls, except for the Eastern Quoll who is probably extinct on the continent, and therefore wild dogs are not regarded as a threat for them.

Additionally, the disappearance of the dingoes might cause prevalence of kangaroo and rabbit numbers. In the areas outside of the Dingo Fence the number of dingoes and emus is lower than in the areas inside, however the number changed depending on the habitat. Since the environment is the same on both sides of the fence, it was assumed that the dingo is a strong factor for the regulation of these species.[59] Therefore some people demand that dingo numbers should be allowed to increase or dingoes should reintroduced in areas with low dingo populations to lower the pressure on endangered populations of native species and to reintroduce them in certain areas.

Cultural impact

Opinions about the dingo are often based on its perceived "cunning" and that it is an intermediate to civilization and wilderness.[60]

Some of the early European settlers compared dingoes to domestic dogs and perceived them as such, while others compared them to wolves. Over the years, dingoes started to attack sheep and so their relationship to the Europeans changed very quickly: they were regarded as devious and cowardly since they did not fight bravely in the eyes of the Europeans and just vanished in the bush.[61] Dingoes were seen as predators which killed wantonly, rather than out of hunger (similar claims are made today concerning dingo-hybrids).[62] Additionally they were seen as promiscuous or as devils with a venomous bite or saliva, and thus, no reservations were required to kill one. Over the years, dingo trappers gained a kind of prestige for their work, primarily when they managed to kill dingoes which were especially hard to catch. Therefore, dingoes were associated with thieves, vagabonds, bushrangers, and parliamentary opponents. The oldest evidence of politicians calling their opponents "dingo" (therefore cowardly and treacherous) is from the 1960s and became very popular afterwards.[44] Today the word "dingo" still stands for coward and cheat and the verb and adjective forms have the appropriate meanings.[60]

Today, the image of the dingo ranges from romantic transfiguration[63] of being completely harmless to the point of demonising them as a general danger[64] for humans and nature. For some the dingo is a beautiful, unique animal[65] and others do not regard it as a domestic dog but as a wolf. Dingoes are called an icon of Australia, which should be preserved (at least in its "pure" form), and its possible "extinction" is also compared to that of the thylacine.[66] Where dingoes are regarded as pests regardless of their "rehabilitation",[64] this attitude can degenerate into full hatred. In the process, it is sometimes said that dingoes are detrimental for the society and the environment (for example, that they are in general the cause for the extinction of native animals). Dingoes (no matter whether "pure" or not) are than treated as a scourge, that has to be eradicated. In such cases it is also deemed acceptable to kill all wild dogs if it would save one human life.[56] Besides this, there is also among bureaucrats the opinion that wild dogs are cruel towards sheep and cattle and therefore every cruelty against them is justified.[67]

Traditionally dogs have a privileged position in the aboriginal cultures of Australia (which the dingo may have adopted from the thylacine) and the dingo is a well known part of rock carvings and cave paintings.[11] There are ceremonies (like a keen at the Cape York Peninsula in the form of howling[40]) and dreamtime stories connected to the dingo, which were passed down through the generations. There are strong feelings that dingoes should not be killed and in some areas women are breast feeding young cubs. In most cases they are treated with extraordinary indulgence, although the reasons for this might not be any kindness, since dogs are sometimes treated quite brutally. Nonetheless there seems to be a big feeling of community although the reasons for this do not seem to always be clear. Similar to how Europeans acquired dingoes, the Aboriginal people of Australia acquired dogs from the immigrants very quickly. This process was so fast that Francis Barralier (the first European to explore the Outback) discovered in the year 1802 that five dogs of European origin were there before him.[44] There is the theory that other domestic dogs will adopt the role of the "pure" dingo.[63] In fact the majority of the myths about dingoes just call them dogs (whether that role was adopted or there was no difference for the storyteller is unknown)[11] and other introduced animals like the water buffalo and the domestic cat have been adopted into the indigenous aboriginal culture in the forms of rituals, traditional paintings, and dreamtime stories.[60]

The dingo is connected to holy places, totems, rituals, and dreamtime characters. There are stories that dogs can see the supernatural, are guard dogs, and warn against evil powers. There is evidence that dogs have been buried together with their owners to protect them against evil even after death.[68] Most of the published myths hail from the Western Desert and show a remarkable complexity. In some stories dingoes are the central characters, in others only minor ones. One-time it is an ancestor from the dreamtime, who created humans and dingoes or gave them their current shape. Then there are stories about creation, socially acceptable behaviour, and explanations why some things are the way they are. There are myths about shapeshifters (human to dingo or vice versa), "dingo-people", and the creation of certain landscapes or elements of those landscapes, like waterholes or mountains. The dingo is also responsible for death. In other myths there are advice and warnings to those who do not want to follow the social rules. Stories can show the borders of one's territory or the dingo in it might stand for certain members of the community, for example, rebellious dingoes stand for "wild" members of the tribe. The dingo also has a wild and uncontrollable face in other stories and there are many stories about dingoes that kill and eat humans (for example, the Mamu, who catches and devours the spirit of every child who roams too far from the campfire).[11] Other stories tell of a giant devil dingo, from which the real dingoes originate. The dog is thereby depicted as a homicidal, malicious creature that—apart from the lack of a subtle mind—is similar to a trickster, since it plays the role of a mischievous adversary for other mythological beings. Many of them fall victim to blood-thirsty dogs or escape them. Here individual beings have a significant meaning too or sometimes become part of the landscape. Even the actions of these dogs result for instance in the creations of stones and trees from flying around bones and meat or ochre from the spilled blood.[68]

Economic impact

Wild dogs are responsible for a wide range of negative and undesired impacts on the livestock industry of Australia and are regarded as pests since the start of the European livestock industry. Thereby sheep are the most frequent prey, followed by cattle and goats. However research on the real extent of the damage and reason for this problem only started a very short time ago. There are many reasons for the death of livestock and when the body is found it is often too late to tell for sure what the cause of death was. Since the outcome of an attack on livestock depends to a high degree from the behaviour and experience of the predator and the prey there is no certain way (except for direct observation) to determine whether an attack was done by dingoes or some other sort of domestic dogs. Even the leftovers from the prey in the scat of wild dogs do not prove that they are pests, since wild dogs also eat carrion. Exact numbers or reliable estimates of the damage caused by wild dogs are therefore hard to get and seldom reliable. Even if livestock is not a big part of the dingo's diet, this says nothing about the extent of damage dingoes could cause to the livestock industry.

The significance of dingoes as a pest is mainly based on the predation of sheep and to a lower degree on cattle and is not only connected to the direct loss of livestock. Sheep of every age are susceptible to dingo attacks, in the case of cattle only the calves are susceptible. Harassment of sheep can cause a less optimal use of grassland and miscarriages.

Distribution of wild dogs and livestock (after Breckwoldt 1988, Corbett 1995a, Fleming 1996a)

The cattle industry can tolerate low to moderate and sometimes high grades of wild dogs (therefore dingoes are not so fast regarded as pests in these areas), in the case of sheep and goats a zero-tolerance attitude is common. The biggest threats are dogs that live inside or near the paddock areas. The extent of sheep loss is hard to determine due to the wide pasture lands in some parts of Australia. The numbers of cattle losses is much more variable and less well documented. Although the loss of cattle can rise up to 30%,[36] the normal loss rate is about 0–10%.[69] Thereby factors like availability of native prey, as well as the defending behaviour and health of the cattle play an important role for the number of losses. A study in Central Australia in the year 2003 confirmed, that dingoes only have a low impact on cattle numbers, when enough other prey like kangaroos and rabbits are available. In some parts of Australia it is assumed that the loss of calves can be minimized if horned cattle are used instead of hornless.[8] The exact economical impact is not known in this case and it is regarded as unlikely that the rescue of some calves will compensate for the necessary costs of control measures. Calves usually suffer less lethal wounds than sheep due to their size and the protection by the adult cattle and have a higher chance of surviving an attack. Therefore it can happen that the evidence for a dog attack is only found after the cattle have been herded back in the enclosure and signs like bitten ears, tails, and other wounds are discovered. The opinions of cattle-owners about dingoes are more variable than the ones of sheep-owners and some cattle-owners believe that it is better that the weakened mother loses her calf in times of drought so she does not have to care for her calf too and therefore these owners hesitate more on killing dingoes. Laurie Corbett also stated this theory.[40] Also the cattle industry may benefit from the predation of dingoes on rabbits, kangaroos, and rats. Furthermore the mortality rate of calves has many possible causes and it is hard to discriminate between them. The only reliable method to document the damage would be to document all pregnant cows and observe their development and that of their calves.[36] The loss of calves in observed areas where dingoes were controlled was higher than in other ones. Loss of livestock is therefore not necessarily caused by the occurrence of dingoes and is independent from wild dogs.[70]

Domestic dogs are the only terrestrial predators in Australia that are big enough to kill fully grown sheep and only a few sheep manage to recover from the severe injuries. In the case of lambs, death can have many causes apart from attacks by predators. Often the predators are blamed for the deaths, because they eat from the carcasses. Although attacks by Red Foxes appear, it happens more rarely than previously thought.[70] The fact that the sheep and goat industry is much more susceptible for damage caused by wild dogs than the cattle industry is mostly due to two factors:

  • The flight behaviour of the sheep and their quirk to flock together in the face of danger
  • The hunting methods of wild dogs and the efficiency of their way of handling goat and sheep

Therefore the damage for the livestock industry is not in relation to the numbers of wild dogs in an area (except that there is no damage where no wild dogs occur[70]). Even if there are only a few wild dogs in an area, the damage for the sheep industry can be very high, since surplus killing can occur. Sometimes extreme losses of livestock are reported (once supposedly 2000 sheep in one night[55]) and are supposed to be increasing.

According to a report from the Government of Queensland, wild dogs cost the state yearly about 30 million dollars due to livestock-losses, spreading of diseases and control measures. Losses for the livestock-industry alone were estimated to be as high as 18 million dollars.[36] According to a survey among cattle owners in 1995, performed by the Park and Wildlife Service, owners estimated their annual losses due to wild dogs (depending on the district) from 1.6% to 7.1%.[71] Despite the variety of estimations, there is little doubt that predation by dingoes can cause enormous economical damage, especially in times of drought when natural prey is sparse and the dingo numbers are still relatively high. Furthermore wild dogs are involved in the spreading of Echinococcosis among cattle and sheep, as well as heartworms and parvoviruses among dogs under human care. An infection with Echinococcosis can leads to confiscation of 90% of the intestines, which further leads to a value decrease of the meat and high economical damage. Furthermore, bitten livestock can only be sold for a lower price.

Dogs are regarded as a delicacy in East-Asia and Oceania and are regularly killed for eating. In the northeast of Thailand about 200 dingoes are killed per week to be sold on the meat market. Before the start of the 20th century dingoes were also eaten by Indigenous Australians, but there are now reports about this practice in recent times.[3] Among them dingoes were also used as hunting aids, living hot-water bottles, and camp-dogs. Their scalps were used as a kind of currency, teeth were traditionally used for decorative purposes, and their fur for traditional costumes. In some parts of Australia premiums are paid for dingo fur and scalps. Fur of dingoes mostly has only a low value and an export of this fur is forbidden in states where they are protected. There is also no widespread commercial catching and killing of dingoes for obtaining their fur. Sometimes "pure" dingoes have an importance for tourism, when they are used to attract more visitors. However this seems only to have been done on Fraser Island, where the dingoes are extensively used as a symbol to make the island more attractive. The experience of personally interacting with dingoes seems to be especially important for the tourists. Pictures of dingoes appear on the majority of brochures, many web sites, and post cards which advertise for the island.[31] The usage of dingo-urine as a repellent against dingoes and wallabies was taken into consideration, but has not been economically implemented yet.[72]

Legal status

Until 2004 the dingo was classified as "Lower Risk/least concern" on the Red List of Threatened Species, but in that year they changed the assessment to vulnerable, as the number of "pure" dingoes had decreased to about 30% because of interbreeding with other domestic dogs.[1] The dingo is regarded as a regulated, native species (but not threatened) under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) in the Commonwealth of Nations and is therefore protected in the national parks of the Commonwealth, as well as in World Heritage Sites and other conservation areas. However, this law also allows that dingoes can be controlled in areas where they have a proven impact on the environment. The law forbids the export of dingoes or their body parts from Australia, except for cases where it is regulated by the law. The legal status of the dingo and other wild dogs varies across the Australian federal states and territories:[36]
In 2008, the state of Victoria listed the dingo as a threatened species in an effort to protect the animal from extinction.

  • Northern Territory: the dingo is regarded as protected, not threatened and native (due to its ecological impact) under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (2000). Dingoes in the Northern Territory are regarded as having an important conservational value since interbreeding of dingoes and other domestic dogs is low in the area. However dingoes can be legally killed when they are a danger for the livestock industry.
  • Western Australia: Dingoes and their hybrids are regarded as declared animals under the Agriculture and Related Resources Protection Act (1976). Populations have to be controlled and can be kept as pets under certain conditions. Control measures are strictly confined to livestock areas and other domestic dogs are controlled in general. Dingoes are also regarded as unprotected native fauna under the Western Australian Wildlife Conservation Act (1950). Although not protected, dingoes are normally not hunted without permission in conservation areas.
  • South Australia: Dingoes and their hybrids are appointed pests in the sheep areas south of the Dingo Fence under the Animal and Plant Control Board (Agricultural Protection and Other Purposes) Act (1986). There they have to be controlled and can only be kept in captivity of authorized zoos and wildlife parks. North of the Dingo Fence dingoes are regarded as legitimate wildlife and although they are not protected, they are given a certain protection in a puffer zone of 35 km northern of the Dingo Fence.
  • Queensland: Dingoes and their hybrids are regarded as pests under the Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2002. All landowners are legally committed to reduce the number of all wild dogs on their lands. The dingo is regarded as wildlife and native wildlife under the Nature Conservation Act (1992) and is a natural resource (therefore protected) in conservation areas. Outside of these areas dingoes are not regarded as native Australian and are not protected. Dingoes and their hybrids can only be kept in wildlife parks and zoos with ministerial agreement.
  • New South Wales: The Rural Lands Protection Act (1998) allocates wild dogs the status of pests and demands from landowners, that they shall be decimated or eradicated.[citation needed] Although dingoes are not regarded as protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act (1974), they are granted full protection in national parks. The dingo is regarded as a native species under the Threatened Species Conservation Act (1995), since these dogs had established populations before the European colonization. The Wild Dog Destruction Act (1921) includes dingoes in its definition of wild dogs. This law only affects the western part of the state, where landowners are committed to control wild dogs. The law forbids the ownership of dingoes in that region, except when you have a legal permission. In other parts of the federal state dingoes can be kept as pets due to the Companion Animals Act (1998).
  • Australian Capital Territory: Dingoes are regarded as protected under the Nature Conservation Act (1980). On private land killing of wild dogs is allowed when you have permission from the territory.
  • Victoria: Wild dogs are regarded as established pests under the Catchment and Land Protection Act (1994) and landowners (except from the Commonwealth) have the legal duty to hinder the spreading of wild dogs on their lands and to eradicate them as much as possible. The term wild dogs includes here all dingoes, feral domestic dogs, dogs who became wild and crossbreeds (except for recognized breeds like the Australian Cattle Dog).[73] The Domestic (Feral and Nuisance) Animal Act (1994) commits every dog owner to have their dogs under control on all times. The dingoes are granted a certain protection in areas that are managed by the National Parks Act (1975). Since 1998 it is possible to own dingoes as pets.[44] At the time there is the possibility that "pure" dingoes will become officially classified as a protected species, according to official statements, that would not stand in conflict with control measures against wild dogs.[74] Update: In 2008, Dingoes were officially declared a threatened species (in danger of extinction) and are now protected.
  • Tasmania: The import of dingoes to Tasmania is forbidden under the National Parks and Wildlife Act (1970). The control of dogs that attack livestock is managed under the Dog Control Act (1987).

Control measures

Dingo attacks on livestock lead to widescale efforts to repel them from areas with intensive agricultural usage, and all states and territories have enacted laws for the control of dingoes.[8] In the early 20th century, fences were erected to keep dingoes away from areas frequented by sheep, and a tendency to routinely eradicate dingoes developed among some livestock owners. Established methods for the control of dingoes in sheep areas consisted in the employment of certain workers on every property. The job of these people (who were nicknamed "doggers") was to reduce the number of dingoes by using steel traps, baits, firearms and other methods. The responsibility for the control of wild dogs lay solely in the hands of the land owners. At the same time, the government was forced to decimate the number of dingoes that came from unoccupied areas or reserves that might have travelled to industrial areas. As a result, a number of measures for the control of dingoes developed over time. It was also considered that dingoes travel over long distances to reach areas with richer prey populations and the control was often concentrated along "paths" or "trails" and in areas that were far away from sheep areas. Every dingo was regarded as a potential danger and had to be hunted.

A part of the dingofence

In the 1920s the Dingo Fence was erected on the basis of the Wild dog act (1921) and, until 1931, thousands of miles of dogfences had been erected in several areas of South Australia. In the year 1946, these efforts were directed to a single goal and the Dingofence was finally completed. The fence connected with other fences in New South Wales and Queensland. The main responsibilities in maintaining the dogfence still lies with the landowners, whose properties border on the fence and get financial support from the government.

A reward system (local, as well from the government) was active from 1846 to the end of the 20th century, but there is no evidence that – despite the billions of dollars used – it was ever an efficient control method. Therefore, its importance declined over time.[3]

Warning of poisonous sodium fluoroacetate baits

The eradication of dingoes due to livestock damage decreased along with the importance of the sheep industry and the usage of strychnine (which beforehand had been used for 100 years) in the 1970s. The number of doggers also decreased and the frequency of government approved aerial baiting increased. During this period, many farmers in Western Australia switched to the cattle industry, and findings in the area of biology lead to a significant change in control measures and techniques in association with reduced costs and increased efficiency. At the same time, the importance of 1080 increased and the first anxieties arose that the number of dingoes might have decreased so much that they may become locally extinct. Increasing pressure from environmentalists, against the random killing of dingoes as well as due to the impact on other animals, demanded that more information needed to be gathered to prove the necessity of control measures and to disprove the claim of unnecessary killings. Observations on the ecology of dingoes led to the practice to place baits near water holes, hiding places and prey sites.

Today, permanent population control is regarded as necessary to reduce the impact of all wild dogs and to ensure the survival of the "pure" dingo in the wild.[36]

Owners of dingoes and other domestic dogs are sometimes asked to spay or neuter their pets and to keep them under observation in order to reduce the number of stray/feral dogs and prevent interbreeding with dingoes (for instance under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (2000)).[36] The principle of caution is used at least in some control areas today, since dingoes are fully protected there, have cultural importance to the indigenous people and much data concerning the importance of dingoes and the impact of control measures on other species is missing. Historically, the attitudes and needs of indigenous people were not taken into account when dingoes were controlled. So called dingo conservation zones are regarded as a possible solution for this problem, and these zones would mainly be based on holy dingo sites and dreamtime-paths. Other factors that might be taken into account are the genetic status (degree of interbreeding) of dingoes in these areas, ownership and land usage, as well as a reduction of killing measures to areas outside of the zones. Land owners are increasingly committed to regularly record where individual dingoes and their tracks are most frequent and cause the most damage. Also, birth, damage and mortality rates of livestock should be recorded. However most control measures and the appropriate studies are there to minimize the loss of livestock and not to protect dingoes. In areas of cattle industries, there are few or no control measures, and efforts are mostly limited to occasional shootings and poisonings. Government controlled use of 1080 is performed only every third year, when field observations prove the claims of high livestock losses and dingo numbers.

Baits with 1080 are regarded as the fastest as safest method for dog control, since they are extremely susceptible: even small amounts of poison per dog are sufficient (0.3 mg per kg).[36] The application of aerial baiting is regulated in the Commonwealth by the Civil Aviation Regulations (1988). The assumption that the Tiger Quoll might be damaged by the poison led to the dwindling of areas where aerial baiting could be performed. In areas where aerial baiting is no longer possible, it is necessary to put down baits. Where steel traps and baits cannot or are not allowed to be used (for example, residential zones), cage traps are used.

Dead wild dogs that have been hung on a fence

Apart from the introduction of 1080 (extensively used for 40 years and nicknamed "doggone"), the methods and strategies for decimating wild dogs have changed little over time. Strychnine is still used in all parts of Australia. Trapping and removal is an essential part of the control measures in the highlands of South-eastern New South Wales and Northern Victoria. It does occur that dingoes are hunted and shot by people on horseback or that a premium is sold for shot dingoes. One method, that does not have any proven effect, is to hang dead dogs along the borders of the property in the belief that this would repel wild dogs.[8] To protect livestock, livestock guardian dogs (for example, Maremmas), donkeys, alpacas, and llamas are used.[75][76] Over the last years cyanide-ejectors and protection collars (filled with 1080 on certain spots) have been tested[77][78] To keep wild dogs away from certain areas, efforts are taken to make these areas unattractive for them (for example, by getting rid of food waste) and therefore forcing them to move elsewhere. Control through deliberately spreading disease is normally not considered. Such attempts probably would not be successful, because typical dog diseases are already present in the population. Additionally, dogs under human care would also be susceptible. Other biological control methods are not regarded as achievable, since there would be a high risk of decimating dogs under human care.

The efficiency of control measures was questioned in the past and is still often questioned today. It is also questioned whether they stand in a good cost-benefit ratio. The premium system proved to be susceptible to deception and to be useless on a large scale and can therefore only be used for getting rid of "problem-dogs".[8][79] Animal traps are considered as inhumane and inefficient on a large scale, for example, due to the limited efficacy of baits. Based on studies, it is assumed that only young dogs which would have died anyway can be captured.[41] Furthermore, wild dogs are capable of learning and sometimes are able to detect and avoid traps quite efficiently. There is a known case in which a dingo bitch followed a dogger and triggered its traps one after another by carefully pushing her paw through the sand that covered the trap.[61] Poisonous baits can be very effective when they are of good meat quality; however, they do not last long[80] and are proven to be taken by Red Foxes, quolls, ants, and birds. Aerial baiting can nearly eliminate whole dingo populations.[41] Livestock guardian dogs can effectively minimize livestock losses, but are less effective on wide open areas with widely distributed livestock. Furthermore they can be a danger to the livestock or be killed by control measures themselves when they are not sufficiently supervised by their owners.[78] Fences are reliable in keeping wild dogs from entering certain areas, but they are expensive to build and need permanent maintenance. Further more they only cause the problem to be relocated.

According to studies, control measures can eliminate 66 to 84% of a wild living dog population, but the population can reach their old numbers very quickly over the course of a year and depending on the season, for instance by immigration of young dogs from other areas. If at all, only a cohesive coordinated control in all areas could be efficient in the long run.[54] Control measures mostly result in smaller packs respectively in a disruption of the pack structure. Also the measures seem to be rather detrimental to the livestock industry because the empty territories are taken over by young dogs and the predation then increases. Nonetheless it is regarded as unlikely that the control measures could completely eradicate the dingo in Central Australia, and the elimination of all wild dogs is not considered as a realistic option.


Dingoes are officially protected only in Australia where there exist conservation areas for "pure" dingoes. These areas include national parks and natural reserves in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, and Victoria, the Arnhem Land and other Aboriginal reserves, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the whole of the Australian Capital Territory. Outside of these protected area, dingos are regarded as declared pests in the bulk of their remaining distribution area and landowners are committed to control the local populations. Throughout Australia, all other wild dogs are considered pests but in practice are granted full protection in conservation zones because a separate management apart from those set aside for dingoes is not possible.[32]

Dingo with a tagged ear on Fraser Island

The dingoes of Fraser Island are considered to be of significant conservational value. Due to their geographic and genetic isolation, they are considered to be the most similar to the original dingoes are seen as the most pure dingo population. The dingoes there are not "threatened" by interbreeding with other domestic dogs.

Groups that have devoted themselves to the conservation of the "pure" dingo by using breeding programs include the Australian Native Dog Conservation Society and the Australian Dingo Conservation Association. Presently, The efforts of the dingo conservation groups are considered to be ineffective because most of their dogs are untested or known to be hybrids.[3]

Dingo conservation efforts focus primarily on preventing interbreeding between dingoes and other domestic dogs in order to conserve the population of pure dingos. This is extremely difficult and costly. Conservation efforts are hampered by the fact that it is not known how many pure dingoes still exist in Australia. Steps to conserve the pure dingo can only be effective when the identification of dingoes and other domestic dogs is absolutely reliable, especially in the case of living specimen. Additionally, conservation efforts are in conflict with control measures.

Conservation of pure and survivable dingo populations is regarded as promising in remote areas, where contact with humans and other domestic dogs is rare. In parks, reserves, and other areas not used by agriculture, these populations are only be controlled when they pose a threat to the survival of other native species. The introduction of "dog-free" buffer zones around areas with pure dingoes is regarded as a realistic method to stop interbreeding. At the moment this is enforced in the way that all wild dogs can be killed outside of the conservation areas. However studies from the year 2007 indicate that even an intensive control of core areas is probably not able to stop the process of interbreeding.[81]

At the present there is no information on what opinions the public holds regarding the conservation of dingoes. There is no unity on the definition of "pure" dingoes and how far they should be controlled.[82]

As a pet and working dog

Dingo 'Carly Bear' in a Truck

There is divided opinion on the topic of keeping dingoes as pets and working dogs. For some people, the dingo is not suitable for this,[83] while for others it is no different than other domestic dogs. In this vein, dingoes would have the right to be recognized as a dog breed and that domestication would be the only reliable way to ensure the survival of the "pure" dingo.[84]

A pet dingo
Domesticated Dingo 'Carly Bear'
'Carly Bear' A Pet Australian Dingo
A domestic dingo asleep on a couch
A dingo in Alice Springs

Dingoes can be very tame when they come in frequent contact with humans.[17] Furthermore there were and are dingoes that live with humans (due to practical, as well as emotional reasons). It is known that many indigenous Australians and early European settlers already lived alongside dingoes. Alfred Brehm reported dingoes that were completely tame and, in some cases, behaved exactly like other domestic dogs (one was used for shepherding heavy livestock), as well as of specimens that remained wild and shy. He also reported of dingoes that were aggressive and completely uncontrollable, but was of the opinion that these reports "should not get more attention than they deserve", since the behaviour depends on how the dingo was raised since early puppyhood. He also believed that these dogs could become very decent pets.[18]

According to Eberhard Trumler, dingoes are very smart and affectionate. These characteristics were the reason why he never recommended anyone to own dingoes if they could not provide the dog an enclosure (not a kennel) that was big enough and escape-proof and a partner of the opposite sex. During heat, dingoes are harder to manage than other domestic dogs, which combined with their attachment to their owners leads to problems, since they want to follow their owners all the time and never miss the opportunity to feed. They are supposed to find every weak spot of an enclosure or residence, escape for a while and stray through towns and villages. Their intellectual ability is supposedly connected to an enormous ability to learn and a lightning perception, but stops at the slightest hint of pressure. They would be suitable as shepherd dogs, as they see a purpose in it (keeping together a familiar group would be in their nature) and even today, some dingoes are used as shepherd dogs. Similar to other domestic dogs they can be housebroken.

In 1976, the Australian Native Dog Training Society of NSW Ltd was founded, which was originally illegal because ownership of dingoes was forbidden. The dingo was officially recognized as Australia's national dog breed in mid-1994 by the Australian National Kennel Council, and a breed standard was published years later. It is listed in Group 4 (Hound) of the Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC).[85] However this does not legalize ownership in states where it is forbidden to own, breed or sell dingoes.[14] Whether or not dingoes are allowed to be kept as pets differs from country to country, as well as between the states of Australia. For example, in South Australia dingoes can only be kept in specially authorized zoos, circuses and research institutions. Ownership, planned domestication or commercial usage of dingoes is considered unacceptable, since this would lead to the reintroduction of dingoes in sheep areas.

Dingoes are bred by certain clubs and private individuals in Australia and the USA. The dingo is not regarded as a dog breed by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale. However the American Rare Breed Association (ARBA) regards the dingo as a breed belonging to the Spitz and Primitive Group.


Breeding programs are considered to be the best option to ensure the long-term existence of the dingo in its "pure" form (the reclassification of the dingo as a pet in New South Wales of the year 1998 was originally done to save the dingo from extinction), sometimes with the goal to later return them to the wild.[83]

Apart from that, the breeding of dingoes is also there to produce dingoes that can be sold or used as working dogs. The first efforts to use dingoes at customs were done in 1976 in Victoria. However, some people speculated that these dogs were cross-breeds of dingoes and shepherd dogs.[14]


The ownership of dingoes as pets and their resulting breeding are criticised from many directions.

One point of criticism is that the activities and the resulting consequences of the dingo-conservation-groups, "dingo farms" and legislation for legal ownership of dingoes for people in public is supposed to be an additional threat to the survival of the pure dingoes. This fear exists because the majority of these breeding activities effectively expedite the interbreeding of dingoes and other domestic dogs, when the identification of a pure dingo is not absolutely correct respectively when hybrids are sold as "pure" dingoes.[3]

Supporters of breeding programs are only mildly optimistic about the success of this step to preserve the pure dingo. Success in the form of a population viable for future re-wilding is only to be accomplished with difficulty from the start.[86] According to David Jenkins, the breeding and reintroduction of pure dingoes is no easy option and at the time there were no studies that seriously dealt with this topic, especially in areas where dingo populations are already present.[87] An additional threat is that breeders may unconsciously select for tamer dingoes by breeding individuals who are easier to manage. Therefore it may happen that, over the years, the tame populations become less suitable for living in the wild than their ancestors. Also, a loss of genetic diversity (thus resulting in a higher susceptibility to diseases) might occur due to a small founding population and negative changes could occur simply because the dogs were captive-bred. Furthermore, some features that are necessary for survival in the wild might "fade" under the conditions of domestication (for example, hunting techniques) because they are no longer needed.[88]

Another criticism is that adult dingoes are viewed by some to be not suitable as pets in the same ways as other domestic dogs. Dingoes are regarded as more independent minded than other domestic dogs and domestication is reportedly difficult. As dingoes age, they succumb to their natural instincts and become more likely to escape into the wild.[83] Furthermore, most people are unable to provide a dingo with what it needs and dingoes would not react positively to domestication and training. Supposedly, only few dingoes and dingo-hybrids would reach an old age, since the owners would not know how to handle them. When a dingo is not socialized, it would be hard to control and develop behavioural problems from aspects of domestic life which are more easily tolerated by other dog breeds. To make dingoes more suitable as lapdogs, breeders would need to cross them with other domestic dogs.[89]

Origin and genetic status

Since dingoes were the only big placental mammals in Australia, apart from humans, and looked similar to dogs under human care but lived in the wild, their origin was a subject of much speculation and debate since the 18th century and especially in the first half of the 20th century. Later archaeological and morphological studies indicated a relatively late introduction and a close relationship to other domestic dogs. The exact descent, place of origin and time of their arrival in Australia were not identified, nor whether they were domesticated or half-domesticated at the time of their arrival and therefore were feral or completely wild dogs respectively.[43]

A widely distributed theory says that dingoes have evolved or were bred from the Canis lupus pallipes or Canis lupus arabs around 6.000–10.000 years ago (this was also assumed for all domestic dogs[90]). This theory was based on the morphological similarities of dingo skulls and the skulls of these wolves. However genetic analyses indicated a much earlier domestication.

Analyses of amino sequences of the hemoglobin of a "pure" dingo in the 70s supported the theory that dingoes are more closely related to other domestic dogs than to grey wolves or coyotes. Additionally it was assumed that dingoes and other Asian domestic dogs are members of a group of domestic dogs that went feral very early. At the same time, DNA-studies on Australian dingoes and other domestic dogs were performed to differentiate between both populations in a reliable way and determine the extent of the interbreeding. At the first two examinations, during which at first 14 loci and later 5 of these loci were examined, no genetic difference could be found. Later on the analyses were expanded to 16 loci. This time dingoes from Central Australia, the Eastern Highlands, dingo-hybrids and domestic dogs of other origin were examined. The researchers were surprised that they could not find any differences no matter what kind of examination they used. It was reasoned that dingoes and other domestic dogs have a very similar gene pool. However, since also only few differences in the enzymes of different species of the genus canis could be found, it was assumed that a lack of differences might not indicate a close taxonomical relationship. It was also reasoned that the degree of interbreeding in the wild would be hard to determine.[91]

During analyses in the end of the 1990s researchers also analysed 14 loci and detected a significantly lower genetic variability among Australian dingoes than among other domestic dogs and a small founding population was considered. There was one locus found that might have been suitable for differentiation, but not in the case of interbreeding of a dingo-hybrid with other "pure" dingoes. Additionally it was suspected that findings of other suitable loci might be used to determine whether there are clearly separate sub-populations of the "pure" dingoes.[92]

To determine the origin and time of arrival of Australian dingoes, mtDNA-sequences of 211 dingoes and 19 archaeological samples from pre-European Polynesia have been compared in 2004 with DNA-samples of 676 other domestic dogs and 38 grey wolves. The domestic dog samples came from China, Africa, Southwest-Asia, India, Siberia, the arctic America, Europe, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, New Zealand, Hawaii and the highlands of New Guinea. The dingo-samples came from zoos, wildlife parks, dingo-conservation-groups, dingo-lovers and 192 wild living specimen from 27 areas scattered over the Australian continent, mainly from the Pilbara-region, New South Wales and the Northeast of Victoria. The wild specimen had been selected based on similarities of external appearance, to exclude the influence of dingo-hybrids and other domestic dogs as far as possible.

Compared to wolves and other domestic dogs the variation of mtDNA-sequences was very limited too. Among dingoes only 20 mtDNA-sequences differing in 2 point mutations at most could be found. In comparison: 114 mtDNA-sequences with a maximal difference of 16 point mutations between the DNA-types could be found among other domestic dogs. Two of the dingo mtDNA-types were similar to that of other domestic dogs (A9, A29), while the other 18 types were unique to dingoes. In a phylogenetic tree of wolves and domestic dogs, dingoes fell right into the main clade (A), which contained 70% of all domestic dog types. Within this clade the dingo-types formed a group around the type A29, which was surrounded by twelve less frequent dingo-types, as well as a set of other domestic dog types. This mtDNA-type was found in 53% of the dingoes and was also found among some domestic dogs from East-Asia, New-Guinea and the American Arctic. Based on these findings it was reasoned that all dingo-mtDNA-types originated in A29. A9 was only found in one individual and it was regarded as possible that this type is the result of a parallel mutation. Based on a mutation-rate of mtDNA and that A29 is the only founder–type it was regarded as most likely that dingoes arrived in Australia about 4,600 to 5,400 years ago, which was consistent with archaeological findings. However, it was also considered that dingoes might have arrived within 4,600 to 10,800 years ago, in case that the mtDNA-mutation rate was slower than assumed. Furthermore it was reasoned that these findings strongly indicate a descent of dingoes from East-Asian domestic dogs and not from Indian domestic dogs or wolves. In addition these findings indicated two possibilities of descent:

  • All Australian dingoes are descended from a few domestic dogs, theoretically one pregnant female
  • All Australian dingoes are descended from a group of domestic dogs, who radically lost their genetic diversity through one or several severe genetic bottlenecks on their way from the Asian continent over Southeast-Asia

Nonetheless, the existence of other mtDNA-types on the islands surrounding Australia indicate there have been other types apart from A29 and only one single founding event. These results also indicated that there hasn't been any significant introduction of other domestic dog on the Australian continent prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Also, a shared origin and some sort of genetic exchange between Australian dingoes and the New Guinea singing dogs was regarded as possible. The current state of the Australian dingoes was ascribed to the long wild existence of these dogs and assumed that they are an isolated example of early domestic dogs.

Despite accordant claims,[93][94] these findings did not show that only dingo females mate with non-dingo males and not vice versa. The findings would not allow such a conclusion, since the mating of a dingo female with a non-dingo male could not be detected via analyses of mtDNA. Furthermore the researchers made sure from the start that dingo-hybrids were excluded as far as possible.[43]

Interbreeding with other domestic dogs

Although dingo-like, this wild dog has an atypical colouration and is therefore most likely a dingo-crossbreed.

European domestic dogs first arrived in Australia during the European colonization. These dogs reverted to the wild (both unintentionally and intentionally), produced feral populations and interbred with the dingoes. Hybrids of dingoes and other domestic dogs exist today in all populations of Australia, with their population being regarded as increasing to the point that completely "pure" populations may no longer exist.[44] The degree of interbreeding is locally so high by now, for instance in urban and rural areas, that there are big populations consisting purely of hybrids. Estimates from the 90s already assumed a proportion of dingo-hybrids of about 78% in the wild.[95] It is not clear how big the current population of Hybrids is today.

Dingo-like domestic dogs and dingo-hybrids can be generally distinguished from "pure" dingoes by their fur-colour, since there is a wider range of colours and patterns among them than among dingoes. Furthermore, the more dog-typical kind of barking exists among the hybrids. Furthermore, differences in the breeding-cycle,[96] certain skull-characteristics[97] and genetic analyses[98] can be used for differentiation. Despite all the characteristics that can be used for distinguishing between dingoes and other domestic dogs, there are two problems that should not be underestimated. At first there is no real clarity from what point a dog is regarded as a "pure" dingo,[82] second no distinguishing feature is one-hundred per cent reliable and it is not sure which characteristics permanently remain under the conditions of natural selection.

In the scientific area, there are two main opinions regarding this process of interbreeding. The first, and likely most common position, states that the "pure" dingo should be preserved via strong controls of the wild dog populations, and only "pure" respectively nearly "pure" dingoes should be protected.[99] The second position is relatively new and is of the opinion that people must accept that the dingo has changed and that it is not possible to bring the "pure" dingo back. Conservation of these dogs should therefore be based on where and how they live, as well as their cultural and ecological role, instead of concentrating on precise definitions or concerns about "genetic purity".[100] Both positions are controversially discussed.

It is verifiable that there is a wider range of fur-colours, skull-shapes and body size in the modern day wild dog population than in the time before the arrival of the Europeans. Over the course of the last 40 years there has been an increase of the average wild dog body size of about 20%.[101] Currently it is unknown whether, in the case of the disappearance of "pure" dingoes, the then existing hybrids will alter the predation pressure on other animals. It is also unclear what kind of role these hybrids would play in the Australian ecosystems. However, it is regarded as likely that the dynamics of the various ecosystems will not be disturbed by this process.[8]

Attacks on humans

As wild dogs are large predators, they can be potentially dangerous to humans. Fraser Island is a special center of attention regarding such, since interaction between dingoes and humans there is very high due to tourism, therefore the majority of reported incidents originate there.

A warning sign from Fraser Island

The likelihood of wild dogs being a danger to humans depends to a large degree on how humans behave toward them. The more frequently these dogs are fed or scavenge human leftovers, the more likely it is that they lose all caution and sometimes react aggressively towards humans when they no longer receive or find food.

Even when habituation to humans seems to be the cause for attacks, it is not clear what the ultimate cause for attacks and overall threat towards humans is. It is possible that some attacks result from the "play" of young cubs, especially with children. Attacks can also be caused by false reactions of humans to aggressive and dominance behaviour of dingoes. It is assumed that dingoes might have started to regard "human" food sources (garbage cans, leftovers, handouts, and so forth) as part of their territory and that attacks on humans can therefore occur because the dingoes see humans as competition and want to protect their food sources. That some dingoes might regard humans as prey was also deemed possible because humans, especially children, could be theoretically overpowered.[31][102]


  • On 17 August 1980 a nine-week-old girl named Azaria Chamberlain was claimed to have been captured by a dingo near Uluru (Ayers Rock) and killed.[24] Her mother was suspected and convicted of murder. Four years later she was released from prison when the jacket of the baby was found in a dingo den and the mother was therefore found innocent. This incident caused much outcry for and against the dingoes.[103][104]
  • On 30 April 2001 nine-year-old Clinton Cage was attacked and killed by two dingoes near Waddy Point on Fraser Island. The incident and the following culling of 31 dingoes caused much outcry among the residents. There were many protests and the suggestion was made to erect fences.[102][105]
  • On 26 April 2011 a three year old girl was attacked on Fraser Island by two dingoes, receiving serious puncture wounds to the leg. This follows an attack in 2001 also at Fraser Island (see above).[106]

The behaviour of humans might undermine efforts to prepare against dingo-attacks; therefore the change of human behaviour is in the centre of attention. Warning signs like "Beware of Dingoes" seem to have lost their effect on Fraser Island, despite their high numbers. Furthermore, some humans do not realize how adaptive and quick dingoes are. Therefore they do not stay attentive enough and for instance do not consider that dingoes even steal food like fruits and vegetables. In addition some tourists seemed to be confused by the high numbers of rules in some parks and have been prompted in some cases to actively feed the wild animals.[31][36][102][105]

Problems in classification

Borneo-dogs, which look very similar to Australian dingoes

There is no general agreement, scientifically or otherwise, on what the dingo is in a biological sense, since it has been called "wolf", "dingo", "dog" and "wild dog".[64] Even within the scientific community the dingo is given several names. In addition, there is no consensus on whether it is a feral or native animal or what kinds of dogs should be classed as dingoes. Thus some people consider the New Guinea Singing Dog, the Basenji, the Carolina Dog[44] and other dog-populations to be dingoes. Evidence indicates a discord concerning the status of these dogs also. Dingoes have been variously considered to be wild dogs,[24] the progenitor of domestic dogs,[44] the ancestor of modern dog breeds,[9] a separate species,[65] a link between wolf and domestic dog,[44] a primitive canine-species[107] or primitive domestic dog,[3] a "dog-like" relative of wolves.[108] or a subspecies of the domestic dog[109] Others consider them to be native dogs of Asia,[110] a relatively unchanged form of early domestic dog.,[8] part wolf and part dog[111] or to have been selectively bred from wolves[75] Then again, others do not consider them feral anymore but completely wild, since they have been living under natural selection for a very long time.[112] According to present scientific consensus and knowledge, they are domestic dogs that arrived at their present distribution with humans, adapted to the respective conditions and are no more "primitive" or "primordial" than other domestic dogs.[113]

Carolina dogs; some of these dogs bear a great similarity to dingoes.

The AU Dingo has never been subject to the artificial selection that produced modern dog breeds[63] and that the AU Dingo is an undomesticated descendent of an extinct Asian wolf.[114] However, compared to the European grey wolf, dingoes have an approximately 30% lower relative brain size,[115] reduced facial expressions[116] reduced impressive behaviour,[17] curled tails which can be carried over the back and generally a permanent fertility in males; features that all known domestic dogs share and that are considered to be caused by domestication.[17][90] It might happen that one and the same source names the dingo as a subspecies of the grey wolf but lists all other domestic dogs as a separate species.[117] Likewise, the scientific name of the dingo might be stated to be Canis lupus dingo, but the dingo regarded as a separate species nonetheless.[118] Alfred Brehm originally considered the dingo to be a separate species, but after examining several different specimens came to the conclusion that they could only be domestic dogs.[18] In contrast, William Jardine considered the dingo to be an entirely separate species, while contemporary French naturalists regarded them as feral dogs.[119] Even among modern day scientists dingoes and other domestic dogs are sometimes considered two separate species, despite proven small genetic, morphological and behavioural differences. The phenomenon of interbreeding between both is then attributed to the statement that all wolf-like species can interbreed and produce fertile offspring.[92] However, breeding experiments in Germany could only prove an unrestricted fertility in the offspring of domestic dogs and grey wolves. Hybrids between domestic dogs and coyotes, respectively domestic dogs and Golden Jackals, had communication problems among each other, as well to the parent species. From the third hybrid-generation on, a decrease in fertility and an increase in genetic damage was observed among the coyote-hybrids and jackal-hybrids.[113] Observations of this kind have never been made for hybrids of dingoes and other domestic dogs, only that dingoes and other domestic dogs can freely interbreed with each other.[120]

The choice of classification can have a direct impact on the dingo. Dingoes officially cease to exist outside of national parks and become unprotected wild dogs.[64] This term itself sometimes only includes dingoes and their hybrids[121] respectively excludes dingoes.[122] Another change of name is that dingoes are "only" feral outside of national parks, with this term having a more negative meaning than the term "wild".

On the other hand, dingoes have been "rehabilitated" in some way, by changing their status from pests to "Australia's native dog" or more subtly, from a subspecies of the domestic dog to that of the grey wolf. The undertone in the Australian press seemed to be that being a grey wolf or an Asian wolf means that the dingo is more "wild" and therefore more desirable than a companion animal (domestic dog). It is possible that the habit of calling the dingo only dog (not wild dog) in colloquial language indicates a kind of familiarity or debasing. In the last case it might be morally easier to kill a dog when it causes problems because it would not have the "high status" of a wolf or dingo.[64] Sometimes, it is considered to be bad that dingoes are domestic dogs, as well as being descended from them and not "directly" from the grey wolf.[123] If the dingo regarded as native, then it is worthy of protection. But if it is considered to be "just" a variant of the domestic dog, it is regarded as a pest and should be eradicated.[55][124]


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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • dingo — dȉngo (dȉngos) m <G a> DEFINICIJA zool. australski divlji pas (Canis dingo) ETIMOLOGIJA egz. (austral.aboridž.) …   Hrvatski jezični portal

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  • dingo — [diŋ′gō] n. pl. dingoes [native name] the Australian wild dog (Canis dingo), usually tawny in color, with short, pointed ears and a bushy tail …   English World dictionary

  • Dingo — Din go, n. (Zo[ o]l.) A wild dog found in Australia, but supposed to have introduced at a very early period. It has a wolflike face, bushy tail, and a reddish brown color. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Dingo — Dingo, s. Hund …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • dingo — 1789, Native Australian name, from Dharruk (language formerly spoken in the area of Sydney) /din go/ tame dog, though the English used it to describe wild Australian dogs. Bushmen continue to call the animal by the Dharruk term /warrigal/ wild… …   Etymology dictionary

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