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Dingoes

Canis lupus dingo

Canis lupus dingo

The dingo—Australia's only native canid—is descended from south Asian wolves. This ancestry is reflected in their scientific name, Canis lupus dingo (lupus meaning 'wolf').

Eye-catching, curious and sometimes dangerous, the dingo can be observed across Australia where they play an important role in the natural environment.

The dingo has a role as an apex predator and is also believed to play a role in keeping natural systems in balance. In addition, dingoes also prey on some feral animals, and in this way can aid the survival of native species.

Dingoes hold a significant place in the spiritual and cultural practices of some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. As an iconic Australian species, the chance to observe a dingo in its natural habitat is also considered an exciting opportunity and privilege. This wildlife experience attracts tourists, resulting in flow-on economic benefits. Naturally curious, the dingo will occasionally approach humans but should be treated with absolute caution. Despite looking like a domestic dog, the dingo is a wild animal and can be dangerous.

What do they look like?

The dingo can stand more than 60cm high and weigh between 13–18kg, depending on its geographic location. Dingoes are naturally lean, with large ears permanently pricked and tails marked with a white tip.

Although mainly sandy-yellow in colour, some dingoes may also be black and tan. The colour of a dingo is determined by where it lives. Golden yellow dingoes are found in sandy areas while darker black and tan dingoes are found in forests.

Dingoes are pack animals. Wild dingoes may sometimes appear in poor condition due to naturally occurring health issues or because they have been denied food by more dominant members of their pack. Subordinate and scapegoat pack dingoes are the lowest ranking dingo pack members and receive few privileges, including more limited access to food even when it is available. The variable condition of individual dingoes is consistent with populations of other wildlife species and is not an indication of the overall health of the population.

Where do they live?

From harsh deserts to lush rainforests, the highly adaptable dingo is found in every habitat and state of Australia except Tasmania. Dingoes favour edges of forests next to grasslands. In deserts, access to drinking water determines where the animal can live.

Fraser Island dingoes within the Great Sandy National Park have particularly significant conservation value and iconic status because they have rarely interbred with domestic or feral dogs. More information about the dingoes on Fraser Island is available from the Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing.

What do they eat?

Dingoes are Australia's largest meat-eater (carnivore) and hunt many kinds of animals. They hunt mainly at night. Depending on the size of the prey, dingoes may hunt alone or in packs.

The dingo is a generalist predator and will search widely for food and eat whatever it finds.

Dingoes generally eat small native mammals, introduced feral animals and some domestic animals. Discarded food from campers and fishers are also eaten when the opportunity arises.

Are dingoes considered native to Australia?

The earliest undisputed archaeological finding of the dingo in Australia has been dated to 3,500 years ago when it was likely introduced by Asian seafarers. However, the Queensland Museum notes that recent DNA studies suggest dingoes may have been in Australia even longer (between 4,640 and 18,100 years). 

While dingoes Canis lupus dingo look similar to some domestic dogs Canis lupus familiaris, they are actually a different subspecies of wolf. According to the Queensland Museum, the origins of dingoes can be traced back to a south Asian variety of grey wolf Canis lupus lupus.

How do they breed?

Dingoes live for about 10 years in the wild and can start breeding once they reach the age of one or two.

Unlike the domestic dog, the dingo breeds only once a year. Litters of around four to six dingo pups are born in areas such as a hollow log or under a rock ledge.

Are dingoes protected?

The dingo is considered native wildlife under the Nature Conservation Act 1992, and are protected on national parks. On Fraser Island (Great Sandy National Park) dingoes are managed in accordance with the Fraser Island Dingo Conservation and Risk Management Strategy (PDF, 7.3M)*. Elsewhere in Queensland dingoes are declared as a pest species under the Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2002.

Dingoes are wild animals and, where protected, should be interfered with as little as possible. Under the Nature Conservation (Protected Areas Management) Regulation 2006, Nature Conservation (Wildlife Management) Regulation 2006 and the Recreation Areas Management Act 2006, it is an offence to feed or disturb dingoes. Serious penalties can result for non-compliance with legislation.

What are a dingo's threats to survival?

Dingoes can interbreed with domestic dogs. Unfortunately, interbreeding threatens the ability of the dingo to survive as a separate subspecies. Along the more populated mainland coastal areas and in certain inland areas, interbreeding has become a serious problem and has weakened the distinct nature of this native animal. For the dingo to survive as a separate subspecies, it is important to control the number of feral dogs. Dingoes on Fraser Island rarely interbreed with domestic or feral dogs due to their isolated location, making the conservation of these animals particularly important.

Feeding of dingoes can also threaten their survival as they learn to associate humans with food through handouts or poorly disposed rubbish scraps. As a consequence, dingoes may lose their natural fear of humans. In some situations, defending or fighting for this food may lead to dangerous behaviour being exhibited by the dingo towards people. Sadly, dingoes that exhibit dangerous behaviour are required to be humanely euthanised as they have the potential to seriously injure or kill people.

Are dingoes dangerous?

While dingoes have the potential to be dangerous to humans, in reality the incidence of attacks on humans is relatively rare. The risk of dangerous behaviour is greatly increased in dingoes that have become habituated to humans through feeding or other encouragement.

Be dingo-safe:

  • keep children close and stay in a group
  • avoid feeding dingoes
  • keep your camp site clean
  • secure your food, bait and rubbish
  • never approach a dingo
  • never encourage any interaction with a dingo
  • know what to do if a dingo approaches.

The Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing's website provides information on how to respond in the rare event of being threatened or attacked by a dingo.

On national parks, any negative dingo encounters—circling, lunging, or being chased or bailed up by one or more dingoes, tearing tents or stealing property, nipping, biting or worse—should be reported to a Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger or by phoning 13 QGOV (13 74 68) as soon as possible. Mobile phone charges may apply.

For all emergencies, phone Triple Zero (000) or try 112 from a mobile phone if you have no reception.

For all non-urgent medical assistance, call 13 12 33.

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Fraser Island Dingo Conservation and Risk Management Strategy

The new Fraser Island Dingo Conservation and Risk Management Strategy promotes the best outcomes for dingo conservation and human safety, as well as placing a stronger emphasis on the importance of dingo welfare. Read more… 

Last updated
1 August 2013