UNSW study shows all wild canines in Australia to be genetically more than half dingo

The many colours of the Dingo.


IT’S time to call a spade a spade and a Dingo a Dingo says Dr Kylie Cairns.

There is strong evidence that almost all wild canines in Australia are genetically more than half dingo, a new study led by UNSW Sydney shows – suggesting that lethal measures to control ‘wild dog’ populations are primarily targeting dingoes.

The study, released just days after MidCoast Council used lethal control on 5 dingoes at Hawks Nest, is hot on the heels of another study which cements the findings – that we are dealing with dingoes and not wild dogs.

The study, published in Australian Mammalogy, collates the results from over 5000 DNA samples of wild canines across the country, making it the largest and most comprehensive dingo data set to date.

The team found that 99 percent of wild canines tested were pure dingoes or dingo-dominant hybrids (that is, a hybrid canine with more than 50 per cent dingo genes).

Of the remaining one per cent, roughly half were dog-dominant hybrids and the other half feral dogs.

“We don’t have a feral dog problem in Australia,” said Dr Kylie Cairns, a conservation biologist from UNSW Science and lead author of the study.

“They just aren’t established in the wild.

“There are rare times when a dog might go bush, but it isn’t contributing significantly to the dingo population.”

Pure dingoes – dingoes with no detectable dog ancestry – made up 64 per cent of the wild canines tested, while an additional 20 per cent were at least three-quarters dingo.

The findings challenge the view that pure dingoes are virtually extinct in the wild – and call to question the widespread use of the term ‘wild dog’.

“‘Wild dog’ isn’t a scientific term – it’s a euphemism,” says Dr Cairns.

“Dingoes are a native Australian animal, and many people don’t like the idea of using lethal control on native animals.

“The term ‘wild dog’ is often used in government legislation when talking about lethal control of dingo populations.”

The terminology used to refer to a species can influence our underlying attitudes about them, especially when it comes to native and culturally significant animals.

This language can contribute to other misunderstandings about dingoes, like being able to judge a dingo’s ancestry by the colour of its coat be it sandy, black, white, brindle, tan patchy or black and tan.

Mr Brad Nesbitt, an Adjunct Research Fellow at the University of New England and a co-author on the study believes there is an urgent need to stop calling dingoes wild dogs.

“Only then can we have an open public discussion about finding a balance between dingo control and dingo conservation in the Australian bush,” he said.

Professor Mike Letnic, senior author of the study and professor of conservation biology, has been researching dingoes and their interaction with the ecosystem for 25 years.

He says they play an important role in maintaining the biodiversity and health of the ecosystem.

“As apex predators, dingoes play a fundamental role in shaping ecosystems by keeping the number of herbivores and smaller predators in check,” says Prof. Letnic.

“Apex predators’ effects can trickle all the way through ecosystems and even extend to plants and soils.”

Prof. Letnic’s previous research has shown that suppressing dingo populations can lead to a growth in kangaroo numbers, which has repercussions for the rest of the ecosystem.

But despite the valuable role they play in the ecosystem, dingoes are not being conserved across Australia – unlike many other native species.

In his recent visit to the region when questioned about koalas and dingo populations in the region by NOTA the Prime Minister told News Of The Area, “As serious as issues around climate change and these things are, he (Sir David Attenborough) points out that, at the end of the day, what actually supports the planet is ensuring that we maintain and support biodiversity.

“And there are a range of things you need to do to address biodiversity.

“That’s why we have the EPBC Act.

“That’s why the Department of Environment puts in place the initiatives and regulations that sit around, whether it’s mining operations or many other types of activities, to support biodiversity.

”t’s a gradual process, which is moving at a pace which supports the livelihoods and the economy of regions like the Hunter but, at the same time, meets our overall objectives which are environmental, as well as economic and, in particular, supports biodiversity,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Dingos are an important part of the biodiversity of the region as the apex predator.

Dingoes are a listed threatened species in Victoria, so they’re protected in national parks,” says Dr Cairns.

“They’re not protected in NSW and many other states.”

Dr Cairns, who is also a scientific advisor to the Australian Dingo Foundation, says the timing of this paper is important.

“There is a large amount of funding currently going towards aerial baiting inside national parks,” she said.

“This funding is to aid bushfire recovery, but aerial wild dog baiting doesn’t target invasive animals or ‘wild dogs’ – it targets dingoes.

“We need to have a discussion about whether killing a native animal – which has been shown to have benefits for the ecosystem – is the best way to go about ecosystem recovery.”

Dingoes are known to negatively impact farming by preying on livestock, especially sheep.

The researchers say it’s important that these impacts are minimised, but how we manage these issues is deserving of wider consultation – including discussing non-lethal methods to protect livestock.

“There needs to be a public consultation about how we balance dingo management and conservation,” said Dr Cairns.

“The first step in having these clear and meaningful conversations is to start calling dingoes what they are.

“The animals are dingoes or predominantly dingo, and there are virtually no feral dogs, so it makes no sense to use the term ‘wild dog’.

“It’s time to call a spade a spade and a dingo a dingo.”



Leave a Reply