Dingo | Wild Animals

Dingo | Wild Animals
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The dingo is the wild dog of Australia. It grows to about the size of a collie and stands approximately 20 inches (50 cm) at the shoulder. Adult dingoes weigh about 33 pounds (15 kg). The ears are erect and pointed: the tail is bushy, often with a white tip, grows to a length of 10 – 16 inches (25 – 40 inches). Dingos have short coats that vary in color from light red or ginger to brown. Some may be brown with black streaks. The feet and chest are usually white. Albino dingoes are also known and there is a whitish form in southeastern Australia.

The darker dingos are often assumed to be the offspring of crossbreeding with domestic Alsatians. This is not necessarily so, though crosses between dingoes and domestic dogs are quite common; the male dingo marks its territory with urine, in the way that a domestic dog does. Present-day aboriginal peoples use dingoes for hunting and capture them when young.

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See all 6 photos

The Native Peoples’ Companion

Australian mammals are unique to that country. In prehistoric times the continent was cut off from the main landmass that later became Europe, Asia, and Africa before the placental, or true, mammals evolved. As a result, the marsupial, pouched mammals were able to survive in large numbers. In the late 18th century, when Europeans first arrived on the continent, the only true mammals apart from humans were bats, rats (scientists believe that that latter floated over the Southeast Asia on driftwood) and dingoes.

Zoologists have found remains of dingoes in Australia dating back 6,000 years. They believe that the dingoes were originally brought over as domestic dogs in one of the invasions of aboriginal peoples from Asia. Some dogs later became feral; these are the ancestors of modern dingoes. As there were no large native carnivores to compete with, the dingoes flourished in the wild and rapidly spread over the continent. The wild dogs in New Guinea are thought to have had the same origin and are known as singing dogs.

Support for this theory lies in the similarity the dingo and the Asian pariah dogs. They may both have descended from the dhole, Cuon alpinus. Neither the dhole, the dingo nor the singing dog can bark. Instead they howl or whine, the howl of the singing dog being a distinctive yodel that gives the dog its name.

The dingo’s only early competitors were the Tasmanian devil, Sarcophilus harrisii, and the now-extinct Tasmanian wolf or thylacine. It is probably competition with the dingo that caused the Tasmanian devil and the Tasmanian wolf to become rare and finally extinct on the mainland. The dingo never reached Tasmania, and consequently this island is the only area in the region where these two species survived.

Dingoes live alone or in small family parties. They are found all over Australia and seem to make regular migrations along definite tracks. There is evidence that many dingoes breed in inland parts of Australia and move the coastal strip in winter, where the climate is milder.

See all 6 photos
See all 6 photos


Class: Animalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Canidae

Genus and Species: Canis familiaris


Up to 481/2 lb. (22 kg), usually 33 lb, (15 kg)


Head and body up to:44 inches (1.1 m);

Shoulder height; 16 – 25 inches, (40 – 65 cm);

Tail; 10 – 16 inches (25 – 40 cm)

Distinctive Features

Coat short and typically ginger, usually with white patches on chest and feet; white tip to tail; true dingoes have larger canine and carnassial teeth than hybrids with domestic dogs.


Varied and omnivorous, includes kangaroos and other marsupials, rabbits and some domestic stock; also some vegetation and insects


Age at first breeding; 2 years; breeding season: April – May; number of young usually 3 to 5; gestation period; about 6 days; breeding interval; 1 month


up to 10 years


Mainly scrub, semi-desert and light woodland; also rainforest


Australia except Tasmania closely related wild dogs also occur in New Guinea


Common; Size of pure population not known due to significant hybridization with domestic dogs.

Persistent Predators

The size of dingo groups is related to the size of the prey in a particular region. Where only small prey is available, such as rabbits or small marsupials, dingoes hunt as solitary animals, though sometimes they work in pairs. If only large prey is available, dingoes may occasionally band together to hunt cooperatively. Like all dogs, dingoes wear their prey out in a long chase, for they are not fast runners. They relentlessly pursue large animals such as kangaroos, sheep and cattle until the prey tires. If there are a number of sheep or cattle in a group, the dingoes harass them until the weaker ones drop back. As the prey weakens, the dingoes worry at it, slashing at the head and legs but avoiding the hooves, until it collapses and may be attacked. Although they are predominantly carnivorous, dingoes also eat some plant material and insects.

Not all of the dingoes’ prey are easily overcome. A kangaroo at bay can be an aggressive adversary. Leaning back on its tail, it is able to deliver kicks powerful enough to rip open the dingoes’ bellies. Apart from humans and prey brought to bay, dingoes are vulnerable to attacks from crocodiles and snakes in the tropical parts of Australia, and from the wedge-tailed eagle, Aquila audax. This is one of the world’s largest eagles, and two working together have been seen to kill an adult dingo, but this is exceptional. Usually only young or old and infirm dingoes fall prey to the eagles.


The dingo mates once a year, unlike the domestic dog which usually breeds biannually. It mates in winter and the pups are born in spring or summer some 9 weeks later. The litter consists of up to eight pups, though three to five are more usual figure. The pups are sheltered in a den where they are suckled for 2 months and reared by both parents. After this period they stay with their parents for at least a year and hunt as a family group. In areas where large prey is predominant, the dingoes form packs, all adult members of the pack contribute toward the pups’ upbringing and care.

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Extinction Through Hybridization?

Since Europeans began farming in Australia, dingoes have been regarded as an ever-present problem. They kill thousands of sheep and cattle each year and a family of dingoes may sometimes kill a score or more livestock in one night. Consequently, farmers have been taken firm steps against the dogs. Thousands of square miles of sheep country have been fenced off, at a considerable cost. However, there is evidence that dingoes also play a significant role in maintaining an ecological balance in the region by suppressing populations of certain animals.

Thousands of dingoes have been shot or poisoned as the result of a hunting bounty placed on them. However, despite predictions in the early 20th century that they would soon become extinct, dingoes are still common, even in fairly well-populated areas. A greater problem than ordinary dingoes are the rogues, such as those that are wounded and therefore unable to hunt wild prey, or dingo-collie crosses, that make a speciality of killing sheep. Very large bounties may be offered for killing such a rogue.

The greatest threat to dingoes today is crossbreeding with domestic dogs. Until Europeans arrived on the continent, dingoes had remained free from contact with Asian or European dog breeds. However, after this time they began to interbreed with domestic dogs introduced by Europeans settlers. Scientists believe that at present up to one-third of the dingoes in some areas of Australia are hybrids. If this situation persists, it is likely that in due course true dingoes will be wiped as a species.