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Dingo

From Academic Kids

The Dingo (Canis lupus dingo), is a type of wild dog, probably descended from the Indian Wolf (Canis lupus pallipes). It is commonly described as an Australian wild dog, but is not restricted to Australia, nor did it originate there.

The earliest known Dingo skulls have been found in Vietnam and are about 5,500 years old. Dingo remains from 5,000 to 2,500 years old have been found in other parts of South-east Asia, and the earliest record of Dingos in Australia is 3,500 years old.

A dingo
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A dingo

The ultimate origin of the Dingo is uncertain, but it is possibly related to the wolves of south-west Asia, and probably arose in that area at about the same time as humans began to develop agriculture. Current thinking suggests that modern dogs are a mixture of several separate domestications of wolves at different times and in different areas: the modern Dingo appears to be a relatively pure-bred descendant of one of the earliest domestications. It is probable that 14,000 year-old Dingo-like bones found in Israel, and 9,000 year-old bones in the Americas are evidence of the commensal relationships that developed between wolves and people—as people migrated eastward, semi-domesticated dogs came with them. The Carolina Dog found in the US southeast resembles the dingo and has common genetic features not found in other dogs.

Modern Dingos are found throughout South-east Asia, mostly in small pockets of remaining natural forest, and in mainland Australia, particularly in the north. They have features in common with both wolves and modern dogs, and are regarded as more-or-less unchanged descendants of an early ancestor of modern dogs.

At between 10 and 24 kilograms, Dingos are a little smaller than wolves of the northern hemisphere (in keeping with Bergmann's Rule) and have a lean, athletic build. They stand between 44 and 63 cm high at the shoulder, and the head-body length varies between 86 and 122 cm. Colour varies but is usually ginger: some have a reddish tinge, others are more sandy yellow, and some are even black; the underside is lighter. Most Dingos have white markings on the chest, feet, and the tip of the tail; some have a blackish muzzle. (The one illustrated above right is paler than usual, and noticeably more thick-set than most.)

Unlike the domestic dog, Dingos breed only once a year, do not bark, and have permanently erect ears. They have a more independent temperament than dogs, and the skull is distinctive, with a narrower muzzle, larger auditory bullae, larger canine teeth, and a domed head.

Dingos did not arrive in Australia as companions of the original Aborigines around 50,000 years ago, but seem to have been brought by seafaring Austronesian traders at about the same time as the Great Pyramids were being built in ancient Egypt. A study of dingo mitochondrial DNA published in 2004 places their arrival at around 4000 BC, and suggests that only one small group may be the ancestors of all modern dingos.

The Dingo spread rapidly, probably with human assistance, and is thought to have occupied the entire continent within a short time. The full extent of the ecological change brought about by the introduction of the Dingo remains unknown, but there is little doubt that it was responsible for a series of extinctions, notably of marsupial carnivores, including the last remaining large predator, the Thylacine. (Note that the demise of the Australian megafauna took place more than 40,000 years before Dingos arrived and is believed to have been largely a result of human impact on an already fragile ecosystem.)

Aboriginal people across the continent adopted the Dingo as a companion animal, using it to assist with hunting, and for warmth on cold nights.

Wild Dingos prey on a variety of animals, mostly small or medium-sized, but also larger herbivores at need. Generally, Dingos live in small family groups, but they are capable of forming larger packs to hunt cooperatively. It is thought that this gave Dingos an important competitive advantage over the more solitary marsupial carnivores, particularly during Australia's frequent droughts (when game becomes scarce).

When European settlers first arrived in Australia, Dingos were tolerated, even welcomed at times. That changed rapidly when sheep became an important part of the white economy. Dingos were trapped, shot on sight, and poisoned—often regardless of whether they were truly wild or belonged to Aboriginal people. In the 1880s, construction of the great Dingo Fence began. The Dingo Fence was designed to keep Dingos out of the relatively fertile south-east part of the continent (where they had largely been exterminated) and protect the sheep flocks of southern Queensland. It would eventually stretch 8500 kilometres; from near Toowoomba through thousands of miles of arid country to the Great Australian Bight and be (at that time) the longest man-made structure in the world. It was only partly successful: Dingos can still be found in parts of the southern states to this day, and although the fence helped reduce losses of sheep to predators, this was counterbalanced by increased pasture competition from rabbits and kangaroos.

Dingos have received bad publicity in recent years as a result of the highly publicised Azaria Chamberlain disappearance and also because of Dingo attacks on Fraser Island in Queensland. They are opportunistic carnivores, taking prey ranging in size from lizards and small rodents up to sheep and kangaroos. Dingos do not generally form packs; they more often travel in pairs or small family groups. While Dingo groups use defined home territories, these territories can overlap with those of other groups.


As a result of interbreeding with dogs introduced by European settlers, the purebred Dingo gene pool is being swamped. By the early 1990s, about a third of all wild Dingos in the south-east of the continent were hybrids, and although the process of interbreeding is less advanced in more remote areas, the extinction of the subspecies in the wild is considered inevitable.

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