Dingoes should be more protected because they are a “fair dinkum” separate species that cannot be “lumped in” with domestic or wild dogs, according to researchers who have been looking into how the animals should be classified.
In a paper published in animal taxonomy journal Zootaxa, the researchers analysed factors such as the shape of the animal, its skull structure, genetics, vocal communication and behaviour to conclude that dingoes are a distinct species.
It said, for example, that while barking occurred in all Canis species, dingoes bark when under threat and as part of “howl choruses” but not during “affiliative interactions” or playful interactions.
“This contrasts with domestic dogs, which bark in seemingly all situations, during agonistic interactions, when alarmed, at feeding times, or when they are socially isolated,” the paper said.
They concluded that dingoes were a member of “an ancient ‘dog’ lineage, diverging some 5000-10,000 years before the present, and prior to intense agriculture and the diversification of modern dogs”.
“There is no more sort of ambiguity regarding its status as a seperate species,” paper co-author Professor Corey Bradshaw from Flinders University said.
“People have lumped it in with regular dogs and … with the generic wild dog.
It really is a fair dinkum Australian species and has been for many thousands of years.”
Other differences put forward include the animal’s independence – that they do not need any human intervention to survive in their habitat – whereas feral or wild dogs require some sort of human intervention “to persist in the landscape”.
“They’re … very much their own thing,” Professor Bradshaw explained.
“They also have a very strong pack structure that is quite stable when left alone.”
While firm in their conclusions, the researchers acknowledged in the paper than the dingo had possibly the most ambiguous taxonomic identity of any Australian mammal.
Disputed dingo classification has legal implications
The Australian Museum recently concluded the dingo was not a separate species but a “feral population of an ancient breed of domestic dog that was brought to Australia by humans” about 4000 years ago.
The dingo’s taxonomic status was a factor in 2018 when the WA Government was considering changes to its biodiversity and conservation laws.
Under WA law, dingoes not being considered to be different to wild dogs meant they could be trapped or killed without permission in many places.
Professor Bradshaw said being a separate species justified them being treated like any other native species – with the protections that flow from that.
“Australia has the worst extinction rate for mammals … and our biodiversity is in a lot of trouble,” he said.
“You can actually get a higher hectare profit if you have healthy dingo populations on your property.
“Where they’re allowed to persist, [dingoes] can actually reduce kangaroo densities which then leaves more grass for cattle pastoralists.”
The research paper has come out at the same time the South Australian Government is looking to repair a key dingo control measure.
Sections of the famous dog fence in the state’s far north need repair.
It was built to keep dingoes and wild dogs out of sheep grazing country and is one of the longest structures in the world.
The SA Government has estimated that the repairs will cost up to $25 million.