Lesson

The Dingo

So, dingoes, guys. What are dingoes? Have you heard of dingoes before? Let me give you a hint. *Awwwwooooo!*. So, dingoes are a subspecies descended from the grey wolf as are domestic dogs, though, dogs and dingoes are still considered to be the same species, Canis familiaris.

Their distribution covers most of the mainland of Australia, although, you are much less likely to come across them in the southern parts of Australia, and they are actually absent from some of these areas including the island of Tasmania in the south east.

What’s the difference between dogs and dingoes? Now, I just said they are the same species, but they’re different subspecies, which means that they have different features whether that’s morphological, behavioural, or even genetic, that distinguish them from your average dog. So, they were effectively a population of dogs, that once diverged, came to Australia maybe a few thousand years ago, a significant amount of time ago, and they’d been on their own since, at least, until recently. And as a result of being the same species as dogs, domestic dogs, they can actually interbreed with wild dogs in Australia, which has led to the majority of dingoes, unfortunately, being hybrids and not pure dingoes, at least, on the mainland. Pure dingoes, though, are found in some very isolated areas of central Australia, the Pilbara region in W.A., and on Fraser Island in Queensland.

So, how and when did dingoes arrive in Australia? And this is the stuff that gets me really passionate and, I don’t know, it just it tickles my fancy. It makes me interested. This is what I love learning about. So, until recently, it was believed that dingoes arrived in Australia between 8,000 and 4,000 years ago. So, that is much, much, much, much, much later, much more recently, than when aboriginals first got to Australia. So, they would have been here in Australia from about 40,000 to 60,000 years ago, for the majority of that time they were alone, and then, more recently, they had pet dogs arrive and adapt to this environment.

So, despite that number 8,000 to 4,000 years being given, recent work using carbon dating on the oldest dingo bones that have ever been found has estimated their age to be only 3,500 to 3,000 years old, so, even more recently potentially that they arrived in Australia. And subsequently, they estimated the arrival of dingoes to be as recently as 3,500 years ago or 1400B.C. And then, they rapidly spread across the Australian mainland.

Interestingly, the other recent research that was done in the last year or two found evidence of a migration of people from South India dating to about the same time 2217B.C. to be precise, which is a slightly earlier date than the older dingo bones ever to be found were dated to. Given their striking resemblance to wild dogs found in India, it seems plausible that these Indian migrants may have brought the dogs with them and introduced them to the people in the environment Down Under. And interestingly aboriginals share DNA with these Indian migrants. So, they actually got to Australia and merged with the indigenous Australian population that was there. However, there are similar dogs found in New Guinea and Indonesia, so the true origin of the Australian Dingo remains unclear. What we do know is once they arrived they spread quickly via Aboriginal groups that use them for things like hunting, protection, a source of warmth at night, and also obviously, as man’s best friend.

So, why are dingoes important for the Australian environment? This is a contentious issue Down Under. The Australian ecosystem adapted to the dingo following its introduction to the Continent, although, a number of native species went extinct in the process on the mainland the most notable of which were the Tasmanian Tiger or the Tasmanian Wolf or Thylacine and the Tasmanian Devil, and they were restricted on the Tasmanian island where there were no dingoes. And unfortunately, at the start of the 20th century, the Thylacine went extinct, as you may or may not know. But fortunately, we still have the Tasmanian Devil.

So, nowadays, there is some controversy as to whether dingoes should be considered native animals or non-native animals in large part because of their hybridising with wild dogs and their predation on farm livestock, which leave many farmers fed up and frustrated with what they should do. In some places where dingoes are considered non-native animals, anyone actually has the right to be able to hunt and shoot them with no repercussions. However, scientists have been doing a lot of research recent years and they say that whether we like it or not dingoes are here to stay and they are a very important part of the Australian ecosystem, and they represent a top predator on the food chain in the ecosystem. So, they have an important role in controlling other introduced feral predators like feral cats and the European red fox, which if left to their own devices with no dingo there. could grow in numbers, out of control, and kill many more native animals as a result, and drive them to extinction. So, leaving the dingo in place may actually allow the recovery of many threatened and endangered native animals in Australia by controlling these pests.


Vocabulary

A controversy – prolonged public disagreement or heated discussion.

A distribution (of ST) – the action of sharing something out among a number of recipients.

A European red fox – an introduced feral pest species of fox introduced to Australia from Europe.

A feral cat – a wild domestic cat.

A feral predator – an introduced species that preys on another animals.

A food chain – a series of organisms each dependent on the next as a source of food.

A man’s best friend – an affectionate or approving way of referring to dogs.

A migrant – a person who moves from one place to another, especially in order to find work or better living conditions.

A migration (of ST) – a movement from one part of something to another.

A pest – a destructive insect or other animal that attacks crops, food, livestock, etc.

A source of ST – a place, person, or thing from which something originates or can be obtained.

A striking resemblance to ST – appearing very similar to ST

A subspecies – a taxonomic category that ranks below species, usually a fairly permanent geographically isolated race. Subspecies are designated by a Latin trinomial, e.g. (in zoology) Ursus arctos horribilis or (in botany) Beta vulgaris crassa.

A top predator – an apex predator found at the top of a food chain with no natural predators.

Adapt to ST – become adjusted to new conditions.

An arrival – the action or process of arriving.

An average dog – having qualities that are seen as typical of a particular dog.

Behavioural – involving, relating to, or emphasizing behaviour.

Carbon dating – the determination of the age or date of organic matter from the relative proportions of the carbon isotopes carbon-12 and carbon-14 that it contains. The ratio between them changes as radioactive carbon-14 decays and is not replaced by exchange with the atmosphere.

Control ST – determine the behaviour or supervise the running of ST.

Descend from ST – to have (something or someone in the past) as an origin or source.

Distinguish ST from ST – recognise or treat (someone or something) as different.

Drive ST to extinction – cause an organism to die out of existence.

Fed up – annoyed, unhappy, or bored, especially with a situation that has existed for a long time.

Genetic – relating to genes or heredity.

Go extinct – (of an organism) to go out of existence.

Grow in numbers – increase in number; amplify.

Hybridise with ST – cross-breed (individuals of two different species or varieties).

In large part… – to a great extent.

Leave SO to their own devices – to allow (someone) to do what he or she wants or is able to do without being controlled or helped by anyone else.

Livestock – farm animals regarded as an asset.

Morphological – relating to the branch of biology that deals with the form of living organisms, and with relationships between their structures.

Nowadays… – at the present time, in contrast with the past.

Out of control – no longer possible to manage.

Plausible – (of an argument or statement) seeming reasonable or probable.

Spread across ST – extend over a large or increasing area.

The Continent – the Australian continent.

The mainland of Australia – the main land mass of the Commonwealth of Australia excluding Tasmania and other offshore islands and external territories (such as the Australian Antarctic Territory).

The most notable (of ST) – the most noteworthy, extraordinary, remarkable.

Tickle one’s fancy – Appeal to one; be to one’s liking.

W.A. – Western Australia.

With no repercussions – with no negative consequences.