Sunday, 4 April 2010
Dingo photo by Michael Stirling
Recently, my eye was caught by the picture of a dingo on a small book on a display shelf in our library. The book is Living with the Dingo, by Adam O’Neill, published in 2002.
It turned out to be a fascinating book. I didn’t realise the extent to which the dingo has been hunted and killed since Europeans, with their cattle and sheep, arrived on this continent.
Being a city dweller, my only contact with dingoes has been in zoos, or the occasional one being walked in our local park, and the only thing I know about them is that they roam in packs around campsites and may have stolen Lindy Chamberlain’s baby. (Adams believes a dingo took the baby.)
I’m always careful with Penny around a dingo because I don’t trust them as pets and don’t feel safe with them near her. (We haven’t met many, but there are some around.)
Adams points out that before European arrival the dingo was a valued companion to Aboriginal people as well as being the top order predator in the animal world here. He notes Aboriginal languages had two words for this animal – one meaning domestic or camp dog and one meaning wild dog.
As I understand O’Neill’s argument, we are causing terrible damage to native animal life here by baiting (poisoning) dingoes. He believes that a stable dingo pack, where only the alpha pair raises a litter, will keep an area free of feral cats and foxes and will actually protect mid-range native animals because they won’t kill as many as cats or foxes would.
When dingoes are poisoned, the pack structure breaks down and young males breed without the control of pack leaders.
There’s lots more in this book and it’s a great read. I recommend it.
A few points I found particularly interesting were, firstly, the suggestion that feral cats have been in Australia long before European settlement – perhaps some time between five hundred and a thousand years. Secondly, O’Neill says basenjis are genetically closely related to the dingo. He worked with a pack of basenjis as his hunting dogs when he worked as a rabbit shooter at one stage. Thirdly, he believes that if dingo packs are not socially disrupted by the indiscriminate killing of pack members, there is less likelihood that hybridisation will occur when other breeds of dogs roam into their territory, because the dingoes will drive away the outsiders.
I could keep on writing about this interesting book, but I’d better go and see whether my own little ‘wild dog’ needs someone to throw a tennis ball for her.