Dingoes are naturally lean, weighing between 13kg and 18kg and standing about 60cm tall. Their coats are commonly golden yellow, but they may have reddish, tan and black fur. They typically have white markings on their chest, feet and tail tip. Their large ears and muzzle are pointed.
Pack animals, dingoes live in groups of 10 or so individuals, though young males are often solitary.
They usually remain in one area but can cover large distances beyond their territory if conditions require or when young animals disperse.
Dingoes hold a significant place in the spiritual and cultural practices of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. They feature in dreamtime stories and ceremonies, on cave paintings and rock carvings.
Dingoes descend from Asian canids. Research into their origin and the timing of their arrival is ongoing. Analysis of the genetics of both the Dingo and the closely related New Guinea Singing Dog provides evidence that they arrived in Oceania at least 8,300 years ago.1 Regardless of the exact timing of their arrival, Dingoes are considered native to Australia.
Where do Dingoes live?
Dingoes are found across most of mainland Australia – from deserts to snow-covered alpine areas, from grasslands to rainforests, though they favour edges of forests next to grasslands.
The Dingo is Australia’s largest terrestrial carnivore, though it occasionally eats plants and fruits. They’re opportunistic hunters, but will also scavenge food. The bulk of their diet is made up of meat: they eat kangaroos, wallabies, feral pigs, wombats, small mammals (rabbits, rodents), birds and lizards. Fish are a large part of the Frazer Islands Dingo’s diet, and in the Northern Territory, Dingoes are known to hunt water buffalo!2
Depending on the size of the prey, they hunt alone or in cooperative packs.3 They mainly hunt at dawn, dusk and during the night, and communicate with wolf-like howls, rarely barking.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, a healthy Dingo population is good for small to medium-sized mammals (and reptiles and birds), because Dingoes suppress feral predators (cats and foxes) through direct predation and indirect interference (cats and foxes avoid them).
Unlike cats and foxes, Dingoes prefer larger prey (e.g. wallabies and kangaroos) so there’s less predation pressure on small to medium fauna. Dingoes also regulate numbers of feral herbivores such as goats, deer and rabbits, aiding in the survival of native species.4
Dingoes breed once a year. A female will give birth in a cave, under a rock ledge or in a hollow log. She’ll give birth to between four and six pups, which stay with her until they’re six to eight months old. In packs a dominant breeding female will kill the offspring of other females.5 Dingoes live for about 10 years in the wild.
Threats to Dingoes
Like many native Australian species a major threat is habitat loss, although they’ve persisted in modified rural landscapes. While the animals that arrived in Australia 3,000 to 4,000 years ago have been shaped by the continent into a distinct form (recently proposed as a separate species), this form is still capable of inter-breeding and hybridizing with imported domestic dogs – also ultimately derived from the wolf – and so are susceptible to dilution of the genetic stock characteristic of the Australian Dingo.
The Dingo is persecuted on a massive scale with broad-scale baiting, trapping and shooting.
For this reason the Dingo is listed as Vulnerable to extinction under the International Union of Nature Conservation’s Red List of Threatened Species.
The status of the Dingo as a ‘pest’ or native species is the subject of much debate. While it’s protected in some states, in many areas it’s a declared pest, and outside of nature reserves, may be controlled, in the same way as hybrids and feral dogs.
On reserves, Dingoes are protected, but even there regularly fall victim to pig-baiting. Nature reserves are often blamed for ’breeding’ or harbouring Dingoes, so parks authorities are often obliged to bait along their boundaries.
What’s Bush Heritage doing?
We have Dingoes on Charles Darwin and Hamelin Station reserves in WA and on our Carnarvon, Pilungah, Ethabuka, Goonderoo and Yourka reserves in Queensland. Dingoes are also common across many of our Aboriginal partners’ properties including the Birriliburu and Wunambal Gaambera.
We recognise Dingoes as an important natural predator and an important part of the ecology of the Australian landscape.
We selectively control feral dogs, which compromise the Dingoes’ genetic ‘purity’. We also support researchers, like Dr. Mike Letnic (University of New South Wales) who has examined the role of Dingoes in structuring ecosystems and sustaining biodiversity at Pilungah Reserve.
We’re involved in community education and raising awareness of the role Dingoes play in the ecosystem as the apex predator, and top-down regulator of feral predators.
Long-term monitoring of Dingo numbers has also begun on Carnarvon Station in collaboration with volunteer students from the University of Queensland.
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1. New insights on the history of canids in Oceania based on mitochondrial and nuclear data, Cairns, K.M. & Wilton, A.N. Genetica (2016) 144: 553. doi:10.1007/s10709-016-9924-z
2. Water Buffalo assessment – Department of Agriculture & Fisheries (Qld state govt)
3. Department of Environment & Heritage Protection (Qld)
4. Department of Environment & Heritage Protection (Qld)
5. National Geographic