The dingo, also known as a warrigal, is an Australian wild dog. It is believed to have been brought to Australia by humans migrating from South East Asia thousands of years ago. Genetically, it’s closest relative is the Asian gray wolf but due to living in an Australian habitat it has now evolved to be quite unique. Another argument to support that the dingo isn’t originally from Australia is that it is one of the few placental mammals in Australia. Most other mammals (think the kangaroo, wombat, and koala) are marsupials with a pouch that supports an underdeveloped young.
Although dingos may not have originally been in Australia, they now play a vital role in the ecosystem. They are apex predators, keeping control of populations of other species. There are 170 species (from insects to buffalo) that have been identified as being part of the dingo diet. In country-wide examinations, 80% of the diet consisted of ten species: Red Kangaroo, Swamp Wallaby, cattle, Dusky Rat, Magpie Goose, Common Brushtail Possum, Long-haired Rat, Agile Wallaby, European rabbit and the Common Wombat.
Dingoes often live in packs, usually with an alpha male and female plus their offspring of a couple of years. When hunting, they will use team work for larger animals. It has been observed when hunting large kangaroos that a lead dingo will chase the prey towards the waiting group where they can attack as a group. With smaller prey, a single dingo will catch it without assistance. Dingoes have become skilled at hunting livestock including sheep, cattle and sometimes goats. As with most prey, they will run it down and then bite it at the throat.
Because of the threat to livestock, they often come into conflict with humans. Shooting or baiting/poisoning by humans is the main threat to dingoes, which 2004 are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN conservation status. The laws vary around Australia but generally they are protected in national parks, World Heritage Sites and other conservation areas, but can be culled if they become a threat to other native species in these ares. Previously outside of these areas in the states of Victoria and Queensland, they are considered pests and land owners are encouraged to kill them. However in 2008, dingoes were officially declared a threatened species (in danger of extinction) in Victoria and are now protected. In the states of South Australia and Northern Territory, they can be killed if they are a threat to livestock. One group committed to dingo conservation can be found at www.dingowarrior.org.
Some believe the extinction of the thylacine, Tasmanian devil and the Tasmanian Native-hen from mainland Australia is attributed to the dingo. It is argued that the dingo and thylacine were in competition for the same food sources and the thylacine lost out. It is believed that dingoes and Tasmanian devils both existed on mainland Australia until about 430 years ago. However these theories are hotly contested.
If you are wondering where the name dingo came from, it is believed to be from a misunderstood Aborigine name, “tingo” used by the people of Port Jackson for their camp dogs.
Although in many parts of Australia, people have tried to eliminate the dingo, it’s relentlessness has ensured it’s success. Thus the dingo teaches us to be cautious but persistent in achieving our goals. Persistence can win out over talent. If you have been called by dingo, you need to be highly adaptive in order to succeed and survive.