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Dingo
(Canis lupus dingo)

Range and Habitat

The dingo ranges primarily throughout Australia, with scattered populations found in the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Myanmar, Southeast China, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Borneo, the Philippines and New Guinea. They are found in the forests, mountains, 20deserts, and plains of Central and Western Australia. The majority of Asian populations are found near villages, where they scavenge for food and sometimes take up residence with humans.

Though the dingo is thought of as being a native dog of Australia, it is not truly a native species. There are no truly native species of placental mammalian carnivore in Australia. Like wild cats, foxes, rabbits and other non-native species, they were imported to Australia, although dingoes were introduced to Australia long before the European settlers brought these animals. Fossil and archeological evidence strongly suggests that the dingo arrived in Australia about 3500-4000 years ago with Asian settlers on boats. They are believed by some to be descendants of the Indian grey wolf, and that the breed they originated from may have radiated to several other breeds.


Physical Appearance

The dingo is a medium-sized canid, and is the same species as the domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris. Their short, dense coat is usually a consistent sandy, reddish, or ginger color, with a lighter cream color on the muzzle, underbelly, legs and tail tip. Solid white animals are very rare. Their coat can be slightly bushy and thicker in alpine areas. On occasion, there are dingoes that are black with cream-colored points, similar to rottweiler markings, and some with long coats, similar to samoyeds or golden retrievers, but these are more likely hybrids of dingoes and domestic dogs.

Their build is very similar to the closely-related group of dogs known as the sight hounds, which include other feral-wild dog breeds (known as pariah-type) such as the New Guinea singing dog and Carolina dog. Males are distinctly larger than females, and Australian dingoes tend to be larger than the ones in Asia. They have a wiry to medium build set on thin, long legs. Their jaw is well-muscled with a square muzzle. The ears are large and pointed, and do not have much fur lining the insides. The tail is long, covered in the slightly bushier hair than the rest of the body, and tapers to a saber-shaped end. The eyes are oblique and almond shaped, and are amber-brown in color.

One major problem with dingoes is interbreeding with domestic dogs. Hybrids are fairly easy to tell apart from pure dingoes by their fur color and body and skull structure. Any color variation from ginger-beige indicates interbreeding with domesticated dogs. The shape of the skull of pure dingoes is different from hybrids or domestics as well, with pure dingoes having flatter foreheads and a squarer jawline. Like wolves and other wild dogs, dingoes have larger carnassial and canine teeth than either domestic dogs or dingo-dog hybrids. Dingoes also only come into heat once a year, unlike the twice yearly non-seasonal heat of domestic dogs.


Diet

The dingo is an opportunistic feeder, and so will eat whatever it can find. Up to 60% of their diet consists of mammalian prey. In Australia, up to half of their diet consists of macropod marsupials, like kangaroos and wallabies. In the more arid regions, they concentrate on smaller prey like rabbits, rodents, birds and lizards. They have been known to prey on sheep and cattle, which creates a big problem for shepherds and ranchers in Australia.

In areas where they live close to human populations, such as in southeastern Asia, almost all of their diet consists of human refuse, which includes cooked rice, fruits, and very small amounts of fish or crab meat. It is because of this high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet that Asian dingoes are significantly smaller than those living in Australia.


Reproduction and Life Cycle

The dingo, unlike the domestic dog, comes into heat just once yearly. Mating season depends on the latitude and seasonal conditions. In Australia, the mating season is in March and April, and in southeastern Asia is in August and September. Males and females often pair off when they are three years old, and tend to stay mates throughout their lifetime. They form small packs, in which, just like the wolf, the dominant pair only will breed. The dominant female will kill any pups from other females in her pack. Both dogs in the pair as well as the rest of the pack will help to care for the young.

The pups will first start to leave the den at 3 weeks old, and by 8 weeks, when they are fully weaned, they totally abandon the den to live with the rest of the pack. In the period of time before they are weaned, they are moved frequently to different densities. Both the mother and some of the pack members will bring back food for the pups, regurgitating both food and water for them to eat and drink, until they can start to accompany the adults on hunting trips, around 3-4 months old. The young pups have been known to roam by themselves within 3 km of the den, but will accompany the older dingoes on longer ventures.

Social Behavior

The dingo is gregarious and monogamous. Though they may spend a large portion of their life solitary, occasionally they will form packs of 3-10 individuals. These packs range from casual hunting groups to close-knit family packs. In the family packs, there is an alpha pair, and the rest of the pack are relati ves of the pair. Within this type of pack there is a strict hierarchy, similar to the grey wolf. Home ranges can range from 27-320 km.

Pure dingoes do not bark, but to make other vocalizations, such as growling, howling, and whining.


Threats

The dingo is not considered a threatened species. They are mostly considered a pest outside the protected national parks and reserves, outside the Northern Territory. Millions of dollars have been spent to build the 3,307-ft fence to keep dingoes out or southeastern Australia, where the majority of shepherds and cattle ranchers reside. Within this boundary, dingoes are considered vermin and are shot regularly, sometimes even for bounty.

In many areas of southeast Asia, dingoes are kept as pets, living with humans and guarding their houses in exchange for food and shelter. Many peoples in Asia will consume the flesh of the dingo as their primary protein source. In Australia, the general public is banned form owning dingoes as pets.

Pure dingoes are at risk of hybridization with domestic dogs, which create animals that are not as wary of man and are more likely to attack sheep and cattle. Also, the genetic purity of a beautiful, unique animal is threatened.

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