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How to not be eaten by a Dingo … and save a Dingo’s life too

To some, the very word Dingo is polarising. Whether referencing the Azaria Chamberlain case of the 80s or a hard-pressed farmer in lambing season looking for something to blame, Dingoes are at the pointy end of the stick for a lot of reasons.

Dingoes are Australia’s native apex predator, and have been for some 6,000 years. Hardly intimidating like a Grizzly Bear or fearless Lion, our cute and fluffy Dingoes hold a special place in the eco-system without getting the deserved respect of the larger predators overseas. Dingoes keep kangaroo numbers in check, and actively hunt introduced species like pigs, rabbits, cats and foxes, letting the smaller endangered native fauna survive.

Dingoes face a lot of threats-habitat loss, lethal control and interbreeding with domestic dogs all being the common threats. Pure dingoes are becoming scarce. This does not help preserve our natural environment at all, and we could see the extinction of another native animal if we aren’t more careful; much like how the Tasmanian Tiger was hunted to extinction.

The desert holds many Dingoes

Dingo Myths

There’s plenty of myths floating around about Dingoes, to address some:

  • Dingoes can bark
  • Dingoes come in all colours
  • Dingoes are not just dogs.

Barking

As someone with a pair of pure Dingoes who sleep at the foot of my bed at night, I can say that a Dingo can bark. They won’t bark excessively like a Shitzu or Pomeranian. It’s more of a breathy chuff, given once or twice in warning…followed by silence as they slink out of sight. They more commonly howl, and what a glorious song it is!

The late Malcolm Douglas with ginger and white Dingoes
The late Malcolm Douglas with ginger and white Dingoes

Colours

Dingoes come in a variety of colours, the most common is the sandy ginger colour. They can be anywhere from pure white (including albino) to pitch black with everything in the middle, some even showing patchy colour variations. A dingo’s coat might be short haired if from the tropical regions or thick fur for alpine dwelling Dingoes. Curiously, Fraser Island Dingoes have a coat more in common with an Alpine Dingo than a Tropical Dingo. Dingoes are also naturally lean, as they only eat enough to survive. Many humans could learn from that ethic!

Dingo DNA

While somewhat resembling certain breeds of domestic dog, Dingoes share a common ancestor thousands of years ago but have since evolved to suit Australian conditions. Their DNA is unique, with approximately 2% of mitochondrial DNA matching an ancient Asian domestic dog breed, and has more in common with the Asian Grey Wolf than a ‘normal’ dog. A Dingo’s behaviour is vastly different to a domestic dog, and their role in the Australian ecosystem is justifiably critical.

Where will you see Dingoes

Most 4WDers come across Dingoes either on Fraser Island or in the desert regions, though they are endemic everywhere in Australia except Tasmania. Dingoes are naturally wary of humans, preferring to keep in the shadows until you’re in bed. Then they’ll poke around your camp looking for tasty leftovers. In North America, campers are taught to keep all food in their car or hoist it well above ground in a ‘bear safe’ to keep the local predators from having a lazy snack. This is the sort of care we should take with Dingoes.

This young Dingo has found a dead seabird for lunch
This young Dingo has found a dead seabird for lunch

This is where we come afoul. Dingoes are born hunters, and don’t need feeding. They are at their healthiest when there is no interaction with humans at all. The worst thing you can do is leave dirty plates or a rubbish bag out overnight. Don’t throw your fish scraps to them on Fraser Island. If they approach your camp, shoo them away with a wave. Don’t chase; that becomes a game.

How to prevent a bad Dingo encounter:

  • If Dingoes are around, don’t leave your camp. Stay out of their territory
  • Don’t chase. There’s rarely just one lone Dingo
  • Don’t feed them.
  • Don’t encourage them to come for a pat. They are wild animals
  • If children (or small teenagers/tiny adults) are present, always have a full sized adult accompany the small person if they leave the immediate campsite.

If surprised by a Dingo, you should stand tall, make noise and fold your arms across your chest. Walk backwards or sideways away slowly and carefully. The QPWS have an info page on Fraser Island Dingoes here.

Unfortunately, when a Dingo is allowed to become lazy and feed on human food or garbage, it loses its fear around humans. This puts the Dingo’s life at risk, by endangering you. Remember: Any Dingo that interacts with humans on Fraser Island faces death.

If you are a little squeamish, perhaps don’t watch the following video. Otherwise, enjoy watching Australia’s apex predator taking down a feral, introduced boar piglet.

9 Comments

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  • Hi, I am a seasoned 4wdriver and I believe the dingoes should stay on Fraser Island. After all, we, as humans, are invading their space. I have empathy for the incident where the toddler was dragged by a dingo. It would be a frightening experience.
    I also believe families should not stay out in remote parts of the Island on their own and also should be vigilant to ensure they fully enclose their tents/vans/campers. I would rather see families made to stay in fenced areas on the Island where they know they will be safe.
    I don’t think we can blame the dingoes as it is their territory and important that we maintain the strain. The situation is somewhat similar to shark attacks when people know sharks are in certain waters but still chance to venture into those waters. The water is the sharks’ territory so I don’t believe one goes out to hunt a shark as a result. We need to harmonise humans with other creatures.

  • We have a pure bred highland dingo in our family. We often look after her and she has stayed with us for over a year at a time while our new son in law, who owns her, was studying. It is hard not to see her as a yellow dog sometimes but she definitely isn’t a normal dog. Those beautiful clear, piercing dark eyes, that particular look that seems unique to dingoes – sort of a smirk or smile that lets you know that there’s a fair bit going on in that brain and it’s probably a joke on us, the extra articulation in the feet joints, the flexibility in her spine. She’s sharp as a tack, more shy than a normal dog but a real smooch to her “pack”, my daughter and son in law and my wife and myself. My daughter now has a new puppy, and the dingo is so funny with the puppy, playing with it, taking toys to her and teasing her – teaching her how to act like a mother would. I come off a farm in western Queensland, and used to shoot dingoes. To have one as a friend – more than just a pet – is something I never expected and I can say changed my outlook. I’m not advocating having a pet dingo – just saying that these are very special Australian creatures worth more than the vitriol and bad press they get. They compete with our graziers but I now hate the thought of shooting and especially poisoning these creatures.

  • There is a dingo population between hawks nest and seal rocks in nsw im up there a bit and see them on the beaches while 4wding and fishing u just leave them alone and your right

  • You’ve only got to see the results of an overnight raid by a wild dog or dogs on your sheep to know why they get ‘the blame from the farmer’. Don’t sugar coat it they love the thrill of the chase and the sound that a terrified sheep or other animal makes as it is cruelly bitten and maimed and then when the sheep stops struggling the dog just goes and chases a fresh one.

    • Dingoes aren’t wild dogs, the behaviour is different and the genetics are different. No denying that wild dogs do kill for sport just like cats and foxes, however Dingoes aren’t likely to unless cross-bred with escaped farm dogs.

  • Yep. Great article. They’re a beautiful dog. Handsome, stunning fluid eyes that just suck you in. But when you’re a tourist, in their territory, you’ve got to respect that and follow the advice above. Be vigilant.

  • People are often confused between a dingo and feral dog. Feral dogs do breed with dingos and the normally placid non vicious breed becomes something completely different in nature but not in appearance.
    I do agree with dingos get a bad wrap which in my opinion in miss guided.

  • Well researched article, hope that people take the time to read, as another dingo on Fraser Island was just destroyed due to a ‘negative’ encounter with tourists who continually disregard the rules…

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