Dingoes

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Australia is fortunate to have wonderful, unique and iconic wildlife. This site is dedicated to promoting its enjoyment and preservation.

The Dingo (Canis dingo) is the largest mammalian predator in Australia and was introduced some 4-5000 years ago from Asia, where it is still common (all subsequent information refers only to Australian Dingoes). They are thought to have spread rapidly across the continent of Australia, probably with human help, and are thought at least partially responsible for the extinction of the marsupial thylacine and devil from the mainland. This was probably due to the dingoes' superior hunting ability, especially in times of drought, when they will hunt in packs. It is starting to be recognised that dingoes play a key role in the protection of Australian wildlife.

Characteristics
Size (head and body) 860-1000mm , shoulder 440-620, weight 10-24kg , females smaller,  life span 8-10 years, to 13 in captivity. Dingoes are typically ginger-colored with white points but black and tan, black and white, and patter
ned pelage patterns of purebred individuals may be found. Dingoes generally do not bark.
Dingoes breed once a year in March or April and after a 63 day gestation period 1-10 puppies are produced. Only the alpha-male in the pack will mate and only the offspring of the alpha-female will survive, any other puppies being killed by the alpha-female. Pups will stay in the den for 3 months and thereafter start to explore the area around the den.
Dingoes take a variety of prey, mostly hunting individually but forming packs in times of drought. They are opportunistic hunters, mainly taking small and medium-sized herbivores but will hunt animals up to kangaroo size when necessary.

Relationship with humans
Aboriginal people across the continent adopted the dingo as a companion animal, using it to help with hunting and for warmth on cold nights.
European settlers' tolerance of dingoes ended with the large scale introduction of sheep.  Dingoes were blamed for many sheep (and cattle calf) deaths and so were trapped, shot and poisoned. In the 1880s construction of a 5500 km dingo fence began, with the aim of protecting the fertile south east of the country  (where the dingo had largely been eradicated). However, the fence was only partially successful and dingoes remain in the south east, albeit in small numbers, and farmers here have had to live with the extra competition for pasture from rabbits and kangaroos.

Most now believe that the attempted eradication of the dingo has caused the extinction of many small marsupial species. This is because the presence of dingoes in an environment keeps in check the number of cats and foxes. For example, south of the 'dog-fence', where dingoes have largely been eradicated, fox numbers are 20 times higher than to the north. Cats and foxes are terrified of dingoes and will avoid areas that have been scent- or scat-marked.

“Where there are no dingoes, introduced predators are rife, and up to 65% of ground-dwelling mammal species have disappeared,” says Chris Johnson of James Cook University. “If dingoes hadn’t been so savagely persecuted, we wouldn’t have had this total catastrophe. There is no reason to think we won’t have more extinctions, if things stay as they are.”


Dingoes readily breed with domestic/feral dogs and as a result the number of purebred animals is rapidly diminishing. It is thought that this process cannot be halted as long as baiting of dingoes continues (dingoes with stable pack structures probably will not tollerate feral dogs) and as such the extinction of the purebred dingo is thought likely.


Main sources for this information
Dingo, Brad Purcell
University of Michigan Museum of Diversity web site
Mammals of Australia, Menkhorst and Knight

Living with the dingo, Adam O'Neil

 

 

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