Meet Australia’s wild dogs – the dingoes

Courtney Dunn
September 23, 2022

Despite their popularity within Australia itself, few outside know about dingoes and, even if they do, few know more about them than just their name.

A dingo catching a quick snooze on their habitat platform at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Video taken by Zoolife community member fireworkgirl.

Did Zoolife add… dogs… to their map? Well, sort of! Australia is home to countless amazing species – some you may be familiar with and some you may not. Despite their popularity within the continent itself, few outside know about dingoes and, even if they do, few know more about them than just their name.

At the most basic level, the dingo is Australia’s wild dog. The origin of the dingo is still a heavily discussed subject, with multiple beginnings, but the majority of research points to them having descended from an ancient breed of domestic dog introduced 4,000 years ago by Asian seafarers. Other research points to a possible land bridge introduction form Papua New Guinea. The most likely scenario, however, is a combination of the two.

Two members of Lone Pine’s dingo pack keeping a watchful eye of their habitat. Photo taken by Zoolife community member tiredturtle32252.

So…what is a dingo?

The ancient breed of domestic dog, like all domestic dogs, was descended from the grey wolf (Canis lupus). Depending on the source, you may see dingoes’ scientific names referred to as Canis familiaris dingo or Canis lupus dingo.

While marsupials seem to reign supreme in Australia, the dingo is a placental mammal – meaning this species gives birth to live young, feeds its young milk via mammary glands, and has fur/hair. A dingo’s coat can be a range of colours depending on where in Australia it is found. For example, in forested areas, the fur appears as a dark tan close to black; while in desert areas, the fur appears more golden yellow.

Dingoes inhabit a variety of habitats within mainland Australia but seem to have not spread as far out as Tasmania. The species is also rarely seen in New South Wales, Victoria, the south-eastern third of South Australia or the southern most tip of Western Australia.

In terms of size, dingoes are the largest mammal currently found in the wilds of Australia. The second largest being the red kangaroo.

The dingo pack of Lone Pine – Tanami, Jindy, and Stirling. Photo taken by Zoolife community member purplesheepbaa.

Packs of the outback

As opportunistic carnivores, dingoes will eat a wide variety of prey although they have historically preyed mostly on wallabies and kangaroos. They will also eat feral pigs, wombats, rabbits, rodents, and even birds or lizards. When native species are scarce, dingoes have been known to hunt domestic animals and farm livestock leading to farmers having a negative perception of the species. Most infamously, they are believed to be a contributing factor to the extinction of mainland thylacines due to competition for food sources.

Despite often being seen alone, dingoes are social animals and usually belong to a pack. Strict hierarchies keep the packs in order as the dingoes within it  work together to not only hunt but also raise pups and defend their territory. Typically nocturnal in warmer areas, dingoes will lean more crepuscular (aka active in morning and evenings) in cooler areas

Like all dogs, dingoes lean heavily towards vocal communication. Dingoes use howling to defend their territory and to send warning signals to their pack. Another form of communication utilized is scent-rubbing to mark territorial boundaries.

Photo taken by Zoolife community member TeaLeaffe.

A changing future

Since their introduction to Australia approximately 4,000 years ago, dingoes have efficiently adapted to a wide variety of habitat types within the continent. Threats to the species, until recently, have not been too widespread – with the exception of some pushing for their eradication due to being considered farming pests. Under the Rural Lands Protection Act, the dingo is subject to government-funded trapping, baiting and hunting bounties. Additional threats exist from private culling, wild dog fencing, and contact with the domestic dog

Today, like many native Australian species, a major threat is habitat loss and human encroachment. Contact with other breeds of domestic dog can lead to disease or dilution of their existing genetics. This has been sparked by the push of urban settlement from coastal areas and into outback Australia which allows for increased interbreeding between the two.

Jindy and Stirling Play Tug-o-War with some meant. Video recorded by Zoolife community member Tealeaffe.

Meeting the Lone Pine pack

With over 90 years of experience working with native Australian species, Lone Pine is dedicated to excellent welfare for dingoes. The sanctuary collaborates with universities, government, students and other reputable organizations, and over the years has contributed to hundreds of wildlife research projects. The Zoolife cameras at Lone Pine feature the three dingoes who call the sanctuary home named Tanami, Jindy, and Stirling. With a range of personalities, they are a delight to see each day.

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