Dingo (Canis lupus dingo)
|Synonyms:||Canis familiaris dingo|
|Size||Head-body length: 81 - 111 cm (2)|
Tail length: 31 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 40 - 65 cm (2)
Male weight: 12 - 22 kg (2)
Female weight: 11 - 17 kg (2)
Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).
The dingo is a medium-sized, long-legged, elegant and athletic dog of great agility, speed and stamina. The coat is typically a sandy, reddish or ginger colour, with lighter cream fur on the chest, feet and tail tip (2). A smaller number of individuals are black with tan and white markings, while all white and all black dingoes occur infrequently (2). Males are distinctly larger than females, and Australian dingoes tend to be larger than those in Asia (2). The tail is bushy and (2), like wolves and other wild dogs, dingoes have larger carnassial and canine teeth (3).
Although commonly described as an Australian species, the dingo is not restricted to Australia and nor did it originate there, but was rather transported there from mainland Asia between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago (4). Genetically pure dingoes are known to occur in central and northern Australia and throughout Thailand. However, based only on external phenotypic characters, scattered populations may also occur across Southeast Asia, in Myanmar, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines and Vietnam (1).
Found in all habitats, including tropical wetlands and forests, hot arid deserts and forested snow-clad peaks in Australia, and alpine moorlands above 3,800 metres altitude in Papua New Guinea (1). In Asia, many dingo populations live near human settlements (3). Dens are made in caves, rabbit holes or hollow logs (2), usually in close proximity to water (4).
Although close associations are sometimes formed to cooperatively hunt large prey, young adults primarily live a solitary existence during the non-mating season, at which time they come together to mate and rear pups (2). These packs of three to twelve individuals are typically made up of a dominant male and female pair and their subordinate relatives (2). Breeding is restricted to one litter annually per pack, born to the alpha female, while other pack members help care for the young of the dominant pair. The dominant female will kill the pups of any other females in the pack (2).
In Australia, dingoes breed from March to April; in Southeast Asia they mate from August to September (3). Gestation lasts 61 to 69 days, with an average litter size of one to ten individuals (2). Female pack members help the mother rear, and even suckle, the pups, and both male and female pack members help feed the young by regurgitating food and water for the pups (5), which usually become independent at three to six months (2). Female dingoes generally become sexually mature at nine to twelve months old, but do not start breeding until two years of age, while males reach full sexual maturity between one and three years of age (5). Dingoes live for up to seven or eight years in the wild and up to 13 years in captivity (2).
The dingo is an opportunistic hunter and will hunt small prey alone, such as rabbits, rodents, birds and lizards (2) (3). They will hunt in pairs or family groups when pursuing large prey such as kangaroos (2), wallabies and sheep (3). Since Asian populations all live in close association with humans, much of their diet is composed of household refuse including cooked rice, fruits, and other table scraps (2).
Although dingo populations remain relatively abundant in Australia and other countries, the proportion of pure individuals is rapidly declining due to hybridisation with domestic dogs. Further more, some dingo preservation societies, dingo ‘farms’, and legislation allowing legal ownership of dingoes by members of the public, effectively increase the amount of hybridisation (1). In several Asian countries, dingoes are also sold in human food markets (1), with their meat providing a major source of protein for indigenous peoples, and their canine teeth used as decoration in Indonesia and the Pacific islands (2).
Another source of mortality for the dingo arises from persecution. In pastoral and agricultural areas, dingoes may be subject to poisoning, trapping or shooting (2). Since 1836 until recently, there was even a bounty system in place throughout mainland Australia, and in most of south-eastern Australia, this persecution, combined with habitat loss, has led to the elimination of the dingo (2).
In the absence of the dingo, other introduced pest animals such as the introduced red fox, feral cat and European rabbit can proliferate, with significant, often detrimental, impacts on the ecosystem, such as the loss of the rufous hare-wallaby, which is preyed upon by the red fox. As a top predator, the dingo may have become essential to the biodiversity of the Australian landscape, but now faces possible extinction (6).
Within Australia, the dingo is legally protected in Federal National Parks, World Heritage areas, Aboriginal reserves, and throughout the Australian Capital Territory. However, throughout much of its remaining range the dog has been ‘declared’ a pest, and landholders are obliged to manage populations. No state conservation measures have been taken other than that the Australian Federal Government has recently published ‘best practice’ guidelines to manage and conserve dingoes (2).
No conservation measures or protected areas exist for wild dingoes in Asia, which is an issue that needs to be addressed. Research into methods of identifying pure dingoes is ongoing, and the prevention of hybridisation continues to be critical to the survival of the subspecies (2). However, it is also essential that the Australian government recognise the devastation caused by declaring the dingo a pest, both to the survival of this dog and to the unique and fragile balance of the Australian ecology.
For further information on the dingo see:
IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group:
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- Carnassial teeth: The carnassial teeth of flesh-eating animals are used to cut or shear flesh and bone, and include the last premolar on either side of the upper jaw and the first molar on either side of the lower jaw.
- Gestation: the state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
- Hybridisation: cross-breeding between two different species or subspecies.
- Natal: site of birth.
- Subspecies: a population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
IUCN Red List (February, 2008)
Sillero-Zubiri, C., Hoffman, M. and Macdonald, D.W. (2004) Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals and Dog: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN Publications Services Unit, Cambridge. Available at:
- Jackson, P. and Sheean-Stone, O. (1990) Wild Dogs and their Relatives. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
- Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
- Jackson, S. (2003) Australian Mammals: Biology and Captive Management. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.
- Glen, A.S., Dickman, C.R., Soulé, M.E. and Mackey, B.G. (2007) Evaluating the role of the dingo as a trophic regulator in Australian ecosystems. Austral Ecology, 32: 492 - 5001.