Dingo (Canis lupus dingo)
Order: Carnivora, Family: Canidae
Native: Oriental; Introduced: Australian: Canus lupis dingo is common throughout Australia and in scattered groups across Southeast Asia. The primary wild populations are found in Australia and Thailand, though groups have been located in Myanmar, Southeast China, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Borneo, the Philippines and New Guinea.
I. GEOGRAPHIC RANGE
- Native: Oriental; Introduced: Australian: Canus lupis dingo is common throughout Australia and in scattered groups across Southeast Asia. The primary wild populations are found in Australia and Thailand, though groups have been located in Myanmar, Southeast China, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Borneo, the Philippines and New Guinea.
II. PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS
- Mass: 9.6 to 19.4 kg.
- Length: 885-924 mm (average).
- Australian adult males of C. l. dingo are generally larger than females, weigh between 11.8 and 19.4 kg, and have an average body length of 920 mm. Females weigh between 9.6 and 16.0 kg and average 885 mm in body length. Shoulder heights range from 470 to 670 mm. Southeast Asian dingos of both sexes are smaller than dingos found in Australia, likely due to an essentially carbohydrate diet as compared to the high protein diet of Australian dingos.
- Dingos are typically ginger-colored with white points in Australia, but black and tan, or black and white pelage patterns of purebred individuals may be found. Southeast Asian dingos are also commonly ginger-colored, though higher numbers of pure black individuals are found in Southeast Asia than in Australian.
III. FOOD HABITS
- The diet of Australian dingos is comprised of 60% mammalian prey, with birds and reptiles comprising the remainder. On occasion dingos may eat kangaroos, wallabies, sheep, and calves, but the majority of their diet is composed of small animals, especially the introduced European rabbit Oryctolagus.
- Asian populations all live in close association with humans, so much of their diet is composed of household refuse including cooked rice, raw fruits, and minor amounts chicken, fish, or crab meat. Some individuals in Thailand have been observed hunting lizards and rats, but also lived in close proximity to villages.
- Dingos are opportunistic predators and hunt small prey alone. They will hunt in pairs or family groups when pursuing large prey (kangaroos, sheep, and cattle) where they hassle the prey from several directions until they can nock it off balance and attack it.
- Dingos produce one litter of pups per year. Mating seasons in dingos varies depending on latitude and seasonal conditions. In Australia dingos mate from March to April, in southeast Asia they mate from August to September. The gestation period is 63 days, with common litter size of 1 to 10 individuals, averaging 5.4 young per litter. Males and females pair during their third year and often mate for life.
- Dingos and domestic dogs interbreed freely and wild populations are largely hybridized throughout their range, except in Austalian national parks and other protected areas.
- A single, dominant pair breeds in a dingo group. Dominant females will kill the young of other females in the pack. Dominant pairs tend to mate for life. Other pack members help in caring for the young of the dominant pair.
- Pups of C. l. dingo first venture from the natal den at three weeks of age. By eight weeks, the natal den is abandoned, and pups occupy various rendezvous dens until fully weaned at 8 weeks. Pups usually roam by themselves within 3 km of these dens, but are accompanied by adults on longer treks. Both male and female pack members help the mother introduce the pups to whole food (9 to 12 weeks), usually by gorging on a kill then returning to the den to regurgitate food to the pups. The mother waters the pups by regurgitation, as well. Pups become independent at 3-4 months, but often assist in the rearing of younger pups until they reach sexual maturity around 22 months.
- Dingo behavioral traits are like those of most primitive dogs. Young adults often have a solitary existence during non-mating seasons, though they may form close associations to hunt large prey. Stable packs of 3 to 12 individuals form with various levels of social interaction. There is little interaction between rival packs. Packs typically remain in the territory of their birth, travelling 10-20 km from that area per day. They defend their territory against other packs. There is typically an alpha male and female pair to which other pack members submit. Males are dominant over females. Lower ranking individuals express aggression toward each other as they fight for the various lower ranking positions. Breeding is restricted to one litter annually per pack, born to the alpha female. When lower ranking females become pregnant, her pups are killed by the dominant female.
- Canis lupis dingo is found throughout Western and Central Australia in forests, plains and mountainous rural areas. They may also be found in the desert regions of Central Australia where cattle waterholes are available. Natal dens are made in caves, rabbit holes or hollow logs, all in close proximity to water. Most Asian populations are found near villages, where humans provide food and shelter in exchange for protection of their homes.
VII. ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE FOR HUMANS
Dingos pose little economic importance in Asia, athough some regions consume dingos as their primary protein source and sell cuts of their meat at market for edible and medicinal purposes.
In Australia, millions of dollars have been spent to build and maintain a 3,307-ft. fence to keep dingos out of Southeastern Australia — sheep industry territory. Within the fence boundaries, dingos are considered vermin and are regularly killed for bounty (up to $500). Farmers allege that dingos seek out the sheep for food, though research has shown that dingos prefer natural food sources and only seek out domestic ones when natural food sources are scarce. Sheep and cattle are estimated to compose only four percent of their diet.
- The Australian government protects dingos in national parks and reserves only. In many public areas, dingos are considered pests and are subject to control measures. Although the dingo is not considered threatened or endangered, pure populations in Australia and Asia are at risk of complete hybridization due to interbreeding with domestic dogs. Interbreeding often results in offspring that pose a greater threat to the sheep industry (since they breed twice as often as pure dingos) and are more dangerous as pets because of innate aggressive behavior. Australian preservation societies have formed to protect, educate and breed purebred dingo lines. The general public is banned from owning dingos as pets
- Status: IUCN, CITES — No special status, U.S. MBTA: 1
IX. OTHER COMMENTS
- Dingos live up to ten years in the wild and up to 13 years in captivity.
- Dingos are primarily killed by humans and sometimes by other canid species, such as jackals and domestic dogs. Dingos are also killed by dingos from other packs. They are secretive and will aggressively defend themselves as a group.
- Dingos are the primary mammalian carnivore in Australia. They compete with foxes and feral cats for small animal food sources, but have greater success with catching large prey during times of drought than do foxes and cats. For this reason, dingo populations remain high, and are thought be responsible for the loss of numerous medium-sized Australian mammals, including species of bandicoots, macropodids, and rat-kangaroos. Dingos are however appreciated for their help in controlling European rabbit populations, which are pests throughout Australia.
- Fossil and archeological evidence dates dingos arriving in Australia about 3500 years ago. It is hypothesized that they were brought over with Asian seafarers as the dingo is thought to have originated in Southeast Asia.
- Because its history is not clearly understood, the taxonomy of the dingo has not been consistent. It has been given various species names over the last several hundred years. In 1982, the designation Canis lupis was recommended over Canis familiaris as species name due to universal usage, though Canis familiaris dingo continues to persist as the subspecies classification in scientific literature. As of 1995, the current scientific name of the dingo was Canis lupis dingo.