Photo: Dingo on the Road - Jarrod Amoore

This article featured in Wildlife Lands Issue 15

Dingoes (Canis dingo) likely evolved from small Asian wolves prior to being introduced to Australia by Asian seafarers between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago. They are apex predators and perhaps the most ecologically significant mammal on the continent, with important roles in regulating the population of large herbivores such as kangaroos. Dingoes were once common throughout all mainland states, in a diverse range of landscapes from alpine regions to tropical wetlands. However, since European settlement their numbers and distribution have declined.

Dingoes have a lifespan of up to 10 years in the wild, forming stable family packs that typically remain in their birth territory, rarely interacting with others. Female dingoes become sexually mature at two years, with litters of an average of five pups whelped during the winter months, usually in an underground den. Alpha males and females form breeding pairs and often mate for life, and usually kill pups born to lower ranking females.

Generally dingoes hunt macropods, possums, and feral animals including foxes and rabbits, changing group size and hunting strategy accordingly. They may also hunt livestock, however most dingo packs limit this with the enforcement of strong territorial boundaries and coordinated hunting strategies. When packs are broken up the loss of social cohesion can result in solitary dingoes with more opportunistic feeding patterns.

Unfortunately, contradictory legislations in Australia attempting to both protect dingoes and call for their eradication have caused major issues in wildlife conservation. When apex predator numbers fall, declines of native prey can result from the proliferation of introduced mesopredators such as foxes and feral cats. Dingo eradication has doubtlessly contributed to the demise of many small to medium native animals while studies show that many species, such as the dusky hopping mouse, malleefowl, and yellow-footed rock-wallaby, are positively associated with dingo presence.

Whilst hybridisation with domestic dogs is a concern due to the consequent loss of 'pure' dingoes, these hybrids essentially perform the same ecological function as long as stable packs are maintained. Conservation efforts should therefore focus on understanding and managing the role of modern dingoes in different regions and habitats in Australia.

HSI is calling for the development of a National Conservation Plan for dingoes to help protect their important ecosystem function, working with the Federal Environment Minister and Threatened Species Commissioner. With control of feral cats a key government priority, conserving the dingo can be a long term sustainable solution to help protect threatened species. We have also submitted a Key Threatening Process nomination on "The cascading effects of losing a top order predator, the dingo, from the ecosystem" to support the dingo's important role under national environment law.