The dingo is Australia's wild dog. As the largest native carnivorous mammal in the country, it is a magnificent animal in its natural habitat and plays a vital role in maintaining the balance in ecosystems.
The dingo's origin is uncertain, though scientists now believe that it is related to Asian and Middle Eastern wolves that probably arrived in Australia between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago, transported by Asian seafarers. The scientific name of the dingo was recently changed from canis familiaris (domestic dog) dingo to canis lupus (wolf) dingo, to show its relationship to the white-footed wolf of South-East Asia. Whereas barking is typical of domestic dogs, dingos generally communicate over long distances with howls - like other wild dogs and wolves.
Where do dingos live?
Before European colonisation of Australia, dingos inhabited most parts of mainland Australia. However, in NSW most remaining dingo populations are in the east of the state, in forests between the Great Dividing Range and the coast.
This limited spread is probably due to a combination of land clearing (which reduced the range of the species dingos prey upon) and dingo control efforts by the pastoral industry.
What do they eat?
Dingos are more active at night, sunrise and sunset than in the middle of the day. This is similar to the species they prey upon. Dingos eat a wide variety of animals, but more than 50 per cent of their diet comes from kangaroos and wallabies. In eastern NSW, the swamp wallaby is a particularly important prey species.
At the smaller end of the scale, a dingo's diet also includes:
- larger arboreal (tree-living) species like possums and gliders
- marsupial mice.
Domestic stock are not an important source of food for dingos - it has been estimated that stock only makes up between one and seven per cent of their diet.
Dingos are social animals, living in family groups which defend their territory and sometimes hunt together. They have a home range of up to 8000 hectares, but their daily movements take in only a small part of that range. At the end of a day's roaming, dingos will return to the area they started the day in. They spend a few days in one place and then move to another, gradually travelling around their whole range.
Dingos mate only once a year (unlike domestic dogs, which breed twice each year). This usually happens between March and June. Pups are born after a 63-day pregnancy. Litter sizes range from four to six offspring, and pups are weaned at about two months of age. Pups may be abandoned after a few months, or may stay with the parents for up to a year before moving on.
Male dingos reach sexual maturity by the time they are a year old. Most females are capable of breeding at the same age, but many either do not breed or fail to successfully raise their pups.
The growth of the domestic animal grazing industry in Australia, and the belief that dingos prey heavily on domestic stock (particularly sheep), resulted in widespread efforts to control dingo populations. To assist the control program, wild dogs - including dingos - are declared 'pests' in NSW. However, dingos are conserved in some areas of public land, including a number of national parks. They cannot be interfered with or harmed when on these lands.
The traditional methods of dingo control are trapping, shooting, poisoning and exclusion fencing. The dingo fence which runs through South Australia, along the South Australia/NSW and NSW/Queensland borders, and through central Queensland, is the world's longest fence. In recent years, there have been changes to these methods. Poisoning with sodium monofluoroacetate (1080) baits, laid from both the ground and the air, is now the major method of control.
Dingos (and domestic dogs) are more susceptible to 1080 than any other animal species. By injecting a small amount of poison into large baits, control organisations have been able to significantly reduce the risk to non-target species during dingo control efforts. The NSW Government closely regulates the use of 1080.
OEH has carried out extensive research into the natural history of dingos and their management in north-east NSW. The results of this study have been used to develop management plans for dingos on OEH lands. These plans aim to minimise the threat of dingos to stock on adjoining properties, without causing too much harm to dingos and other species which live on OEH lands.
In addition, scientists are concerned that purebred dingo populations may be at threat from interbreeding with domestic dogs. The impact and long-term effects of this hybridisation are unknown.
Page last updated: 15 April 2011