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Managing the Impact of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs


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Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs is the first book to provide a comprehensive review of the history and biology of wild dogs in Australia, the damage they cause, and community attitudes to their management. Australia's wild dogs include dingoes, introduced around 4000 years ago, feral domestic dogs and hybrids between the two. They are widely distributed throughout Australia. Predation and harassment of stock by wild dogs causes millions of dollars worth of losses to Australian sheep, cattle and goat producers each year. There are also opportunity costs in areas where sheep are not grazed because of the high risk of wild dog predation. For this reason, wild dog control is a significant expense for many pastoralists and government agencies. Yet conservation of pure dingoes is also important and is threatened by their hybridisation with feral domestic dogs on the mainland. Key strategies for successful wild dog management are recommended by the authors, who are scientific experts on wild dog management. The strategies are illustrated by case studies. Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs is an essential guide for policy makers, pastoralists, conservation reserve managers and all those interested in wild dog management.
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Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild
is the first book to provide a comprehensive
review of the history and biology of wild dogs
in Australia, the damage they cause, and
community attitudes to their management.
Australia's wild dogs include dingoes, introduced
around 4000 years ago, feral domestic dogs and
hybrids between the two. They are widely
distributed throughout Australia. Predation and
harassment of stock by wild dogs causes millions
of dollars worth of losses to Australian sheep,
cattle and goat producers each year. There are
also opportunity costs in areas where sheep are
not grazed because of the high risk of wild dog
predation. For this reason, wild dog control is a
significant expense for many pastoralists and
government agencies. Yet conservation of pure
dingoes is also important and is threatened by
their hybridisation with feral domestic dogs on the
Key strategies for successful wild dog management
are recommended by the authors, who are scientific
experts on wild dog management. The strategies
are illustrated by case studies.
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild
is an essential guide for policy makers,
pastoralists, conservation reserve managers and
all those interested in wild dog management.
Managing the Impacts of
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs
Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes
and Other Wild Dogs
Peter Fleming, Laurie Corbett,
Robert Harden and Peter Thomson
Scientific editing by Mary Bomford
Published by
Bureau of Rural Sciences
© Commonwealth of Australia 2001
ISBN 0 644 29240 7 (set)
ISBN 0 642 70494 5 (this publication)
This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be
reproduced by any process without prior written permission from the Bureau of Rural Sciences. Requests
and inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to the Executive Director, Bureau of
Rural Sciences, PO Box E11, Kingston ACT 2604.
The Bureau of Rural Sciences is a professionally independent scientific bureau within the Department of
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry — Australia. Its mission is to provide first-class scientific research and
advice to enable the department to achieve its vision — rising national prosperity and quality of life through
competitive and sustainable agricultural, fisheries and forestry industries.
The Commonwealth and all persons acting for the Commonwealth in preparing the booklet disclaim all
responsibility and liability to any person arising or indirectly from any person taking or not taking action
based upon the information in this booklet.
Credits for cover photographs: Main: Laurie Corbett. Inset: NSW Agriculture.
Authors: Peter Fleming, NSW Agriculture – Vertebrate Pest Research Unit
Laurie Corbett, EWL Sciences Pty Ltd
Robert Harden, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service – Biodiversity Research Group
Peter Thomson, Agriculture Western Australia – Vertebrate Pest Research Section
Editor: Mary Bomford, Bureau of Rural Sciences, Canberra.
Typeset by Lisa Curtin
Printed by Pirie Printers Pty Limited
Preferred way to cite this publication:
Fleming, P., Corbett, L., Harden, R. and Thomson, P. (2001) Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other
Wild Dogs. Bureau of Rural Sciences, Canberra.
Bureau of Rural Sciences
PO Box E11
Kingston ACT 2604
Ph: 02 6272 4282
Fax: 02 6272 4747
AFFA Shopfront
GPO Box 858
Canberra ACT 2601
Ph: 02 6272 5550
Fax: 02 6272 5771
Copies available from:Published by:
Wild dogs, which include feral domestic
dogs, dingoes and their hybrids, are a prob-
lem in Australia because their predation and
harassment of stock causes millions of dol-
lars worth of losses to sheep, cattle and goat
producers each year. There are also opportu-
nity costs in areas where sheep are not
grazed because of the high risk of wild dog
predation. Yet dingoes are also valued as a
native species and their conservation is
important to many people. The survival of
pure dingoes on mainland Australia is threat-
ened by hybridisation with feral domestic
There is little reliable information about the
cost of wild dog predation or the benefits of
wild dog control. The relationship between
dog abundance and livestock predation is
often complex and variable and sometimes
stock losses can be high even when wild dog
numbers are low. Although spending on
pest control should be justified in terms of
economic returns on such investments, this
is clearly difficult when changes to livestock
productivity in response to dog control are
often poorly quantified. This can be further
complicated where pastoral properties abut
government lands where dingo conservation
is a management objective and dogs move
between these areas.
This book is one in a series produced by the
Bureau of Rural Sciences as part of the
National Feral Animal Control Program — a
Natural Heritage Trust initiative. Others in the
series include guidelines for managing feral
horses, rabbits, foxes, feral goats, feral pigs,
rodents and carp. The principles underlying
the strategic management of vertebrate pests
have been described in Managing Vertebrate
Pests: Principles and Strategies (Braysher
1993) and in Australia’s Pest Animals: New
Solutions to Old Problems (Olsen 1998). The
emphasis is on the management of pest dam-
age rather than on simply reducing pest den-
sity. The guidelines recommend that, wher-
ever practical, management should concen-
trate on achieving clearly defined economic
or conservation benefits.
To ensure the guidelines are accepted as a
basis for wild dog management, comment
has been sought from State, Territory and
Commonwealth Government agencies and
from land managers and community and
research organisations. The Standing
Committee on Agriculture and Resource
Management has endorsed the publication
of these guidelines.
These guidelines provide natural resource
users, managers, advisers and funding agen-
cies with ‘best practice’ national guidelines
for managing the economic and environ-
mental damage caused by wild dogs. They
will help land managers reduce harm to live-
stock caused by wild dogs and assist in the
conservation of pure dingoes through the
use of scientifically based management that
is humane, cost-effective and integrated with
ecologically sustainable land management.
Peter O’Brien
Executive Director
Bureau of Rural Sciences
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs iii
Summary 11
1.1 Nomenclature 11
1.2 Origin, spread and distribution of dingoes throughout the world 12
1.3 Introduction, spread and distribution of dingoes and other wild dogs in Australia 13
Summary 17
2.1 General description 17
2.2 Habitats 20
2.3 Diet and hunting strategies 20
2.4 Home range and movements 27
2.5 Social organisation and behaviour 29
2.6 Reproduction 32
2.7 Mortality and disease 33
2.8 Population dynamics and changes in abundance 35
2.9 Hybridisation 39
2.10 Co-occurence with other predators 41
Summary 43
3.1 Economic impact 43
3.2 Environmental impact 49
3.3 Resource and conservation value 50
3.4 Diseases and parasites 51
3.5 Interactions between wild dogs, marsupial carnivores and introduced predators 53
3.6 Predator–prey relationships 54
3.7 Interactions between humans and wild dogs 60
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs v
Summary 63
4.1 Community perceptions and attitudes 63
4.2 Animal welfare issues 65
4.3 Public health issues 68
4.4 Conservation issues 69
Summary 71
5.1 Past legal status and management 72
5.2 Current legal status 75
5.3 Current management strategies 77
Summary 83
6.1 Introduction 83
6.2 Estimating abundance 84
6.3 Estimating agricultural and environmental impacts 87
6.4 Control techniques 93
6.5 Costs of control 107
6.6 Environmental and non-target issues associated with 1080 baiting 109
Summary 111
7.1 Strategic approach 112
7.2 Defining the problem 112
7.3 Developing a management plan 113
7.4 Economic frameworks 124
7.5 Implementation 129
7.6 Monitoring and evaluation 129
7.7 Case studies 130
Summary 135
8.1 Assess relationship between wild dog abundance and predation of cattle 135
8.2 Assess relative effectiveness and efficacy of baiting strategies 135
Bureau of Rural Sciences
8.3 Assess effect of Rabbit Calicivirus Disease on dingo predation of livestock 136
8.4 Investigate feasibility of compensation schemes for wild dog predation 136
8.5 Train vertebrate pest control operators and managers 136
8.6 Improve public awareness of agricultural production, conservation and animal
welfare issues for wild dog control 136
8.7 Develop species-specific and more humane control techniques for wild dogs 137
8.8 Assess economic importance of hydatids in wild dogs 137
8.9 Assess the role of disease induced mortality in wild dogs 138
8.10 Assess the role of wild dogs if rabies were introduced 138
8.11 Assess risks to non-target species of 1080 poisoning 138
8.12 Assess the ecological effects of wild dog control on feral cat and fox populations 138
8.13 Assess the interactions of wild dogs and native carnivore populations 139
8.14 Assess effects of wild dog abundance on macropods 139
8.15 Assess the value of dingo conservation 139
8.16 Develop a method to identify genetically pure dingoes 140
8.17 Improve knowledge about genetics of wild dogs 140
8.18 Assess the ecological role of dingo hybrids 140
APPENDIX A Parasites and pathogens recorded from wild dogs in Australia 157
APPENDIX B Getting the best out of extension 161
APPENDIX C Authors’ biographies 165
Figure 1 Strategic approach to managing the impacts of wild dogs. 9
Figure 2 Distribution of wild dogs and livestock. 15
Figure 3 The pelts of wild dogs, showing variety of colours. 19
Figure 4 The breeding cycle of adult (more than one-year-old) and young
(less than one-year-old) female dingoes in central Australia. 33
Figure 5 Fluctuations in dingo density in the Fortescue River region 1976–84. 37
Figure 6 A conceptual model of the dynamics of a population of wild dogs
in an area exposed to annual baiting programs. 37
Figure 7 The process of hybridisation between dingoes and domestic dogs. 40
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs vii
Figure 8 Cattle numbers and rainfall in central Australia from 1874 to 1985. 55
Figure 9 A model of predation by wild dogs in a pristine coastal ecosystem
in tropical Australia. 56
Figure 10 Models of predation by wild dogs in disturbed ecosystems in
arid Australia. 59
Figure 11 Dingo predation on sheep. 91
Figure 12 A wire-netting wild dog-proof fence in north-eastern New South Wales. 94
Figure 13 New wire-netting fences. 94
Figure 14 A decision-making framework for devising a plan of management for
reducing predation of livestock by dingoes and other wild dogs in eastern
Australia. 122
Figure 15 Some hypothetical relationships between dog density and damage. 125
Figure 16 The relationship between density of wild dogs and the damage caused
by wild dogs to cattle enterprises in north-eastern New South Wales. 125
Figure 17 A marginal analysis of wild dog control. 126
Figure 18 An example of benefit–cost ratio analyses. 132
Table 1 The occurrence of major food groups (% of samples) in the diet
of dingoes and other wild dogs in Australia. 21
Table 2 Sheep losses caused by dingoes over an 18-day period. 45
Table 3 Predation of livestock by wild dogs in north-eastern New South Wales. 46
Table 4 Australian legislation and policies for dingoes and other wild dogs. 81
Table 5 The effort expended for the control of wild dogs by landholders
in north-eastern New South Wales. 109
Table 6 A decision table of strategic and reactive control measures for
wild dogs in New South Wales. 117
Table 7 Hypothetical benefit–cost comparison of two wild dog control
strategies using two sets of sheep productivity data. 133
Box 1 Recognising wild dog predation of sheep 89
Box 2 A decision-making framework for wild dog control 119
Box 3 Economic framework for wild dog management 124
Bureau of Rural Sciences
Special thanks are due to the following people
who provided detailed comments which
enhanced the accuracy and usefulness of this
publication: David Adams, Lee Allen, Peter
Bird, John Burley, Peter Catling, Brian Coman,
Carole de Fraga, Chris Dickman, Glenn
Edwards, Penny Fisher, Hugh Gent, Clive
Marks, Clyde McGaw, Sean Moran, Alan
Newsome, Barry Oakman, Syd Shea and
Christopher Short. We also thank all the partici-
pants of the Wild Dog Management Workshop,
held in Canberra in December 1996, which
was the precursor of this publication.
Several individuals from the Bureau of Rural
Sciences deserve mention. Quentin Hart man-
aged the overall publication production pro-
cess and assisted with editing, design and
print management. Lisa Curtin incorporated
the numerous modifications to the final drafts,
assisted with copy editing, compiled the
index, typeset the document and had major
responsibility for final production. Dana
Bradford helped collate earlier drafts of the
manuscript. Kim Tatnell redrew the figures.
The draft manuscript was circulated to the
following organisations for comment:
Animals Australia
Australian Conservation Foundation
Australian Veterinary Association
Central Land Council
Commonwealth Department of
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Land and Water Resources Research and
Development Corporation
National Consultative Committee on
Animal Welfare
National Farmers’ Federation
Rural Industries Research and
Development Corporation
Standing Committee on Agriculture and
Resource Management
Standing Committee on Conservation
Vertebrate Pests Committee
We thank these groups and hope that this
document will facilitate their involvement in
more strategic management of wild dog
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs ix
Wild dogs are widely distributed throughout
Australia and are pests in agricultural areas,
particularly in areas dominated by sheep
enterprises. Predation of sheep and cattle
threatens the economic viability of some
properties and the costs of wild dog control
can be substantial. At the same time, in unoc-
cupied lands and areas of extensive cattle
grazing wild dogs are often tolerated and
dingoes are actively conserved in parts of
their range.
These guidelines are a comprehensive review
of the origins of dingoes and other wild dogs in
Australia, their biology and ecology, the dam-
age they cause, and past and current manage-
ment. The attitudes of various community
groups to wild dogs and the damage they
cause through predation of livestock, and to
the conservation of dingoes were sought dur-
ing the production of these guidelines. A strate-
gic approach to management is recommended
to reduce predation on livestock by wild dogs
and to allow conservation of dingoes. This
approach is illustrated by case studies.
Deficiencies in knowledge, management and
legislation are identified.
These guidelines have been prepared pri-
marily for State and Territory management
agencies as a basis on which to consult with
land managers and relevant interest groups
and to prepare state, regional and local
strategies for managing wild dogs and reduc-
ing the damage they cause to livestock
industries. Their purpose is to assist in devel-
oping the most cost-effective strategies to
reduce wild dog damage to production.
Ideally, such strategies are based on reliable
quantitative information about the damage
caused by dogs, the cost of control measures
and the effect that implementing control has
on reducing damage. In developing these
guidelines the authors have used all such
available information. In some instances,
however, where reliable information is not
yet available, land managers responsible for
wild dog management will still have to make
assumptions about impacts and the efficacy
and cost-effectiveness of control techniques.
Biology, ecology and taxonomy
The wild dog population comprises two sub-
species of canid, dingoes (recommended
nomenclature, Canis lupus dingo) and feral
dogs (recommended nomenclature, C. l.
familiaris) and hybrids of the two. Dingoes
were first introduced to Australia some 4000
years ago and domestic dogs have been pre-
sent since first European settlement in 1788.
Dingoes and other wild dogs are widely dis-
tributed throughout the country and are pre-
sent in most environments. However, din-
goes and other wild dogs have been
removed from much of the agricultural zone
over the past 200 years and hybridisation
between the subspecies over that time has
resulted in a lesser proportion of pure din-
goes, especially in south-eastern Australia.
The average adult dingo in Australia weighs
16 kilograms and, although feral dogs and
hybrids may weigh up to 60 kilograms, most
are less than 20 kilograms. Pure dingoes are
distinct from similar-looking domestic dogs
and hybrids because they breed once a year
and have some different skull characteristics.
The present distribution of dingoes and
other wild dogs covers most of the mainland,
except for the sheep and cereal growing
areas of south-eastern Australia. Wild dogs
live in small groups or packs in territories
where the home ranges of individuals vary
between 10 and 300 square kilometres.
Packs are usually stable but under certain
conditions some wild dogs, usually young
males, disperse.
Although wild dogs eat a diverse range of
foods, from insects to buffalo (Bubalus
bubalis), they focus on medium and large
vertebrates. Hunting group size and hunting
strategies differ according to prey type to
maximise hunting success. Larger groups of
wild dogs are more successful when hunting
large kangaroos (Macropus spp.) and cattle
and solitary animals are more successful
when hunting rabbits and small macropods.
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs 1
Female dingoes become sexually mature by
two years and have only one oestrus period
each year, although some do not breed in
droughts. Female feral dogs of a similar size
to dingoes have the potential to have two lit-
ters each year but this is rarely achieved
because of the high nutritional demands of
raising young. Litters average five pups and
are usually whelped during winter.
Agricultural impacts
Wild dogs prey on livestock and predation
on sheep and cattle can threaten the eco-
nomic viability of properties in some areas.
Sheep are the most commonly attacked live-
stock, followed by cattle and goats.
Some individual wild dogs cause far more
damage than others, although many individ-
uals will attack or harass sheep, sometimes
maiming without killing. Wild dogs some-
times chase sheep without attacking them.
Even when wild dogs kill sheep, they often
leave carcasses uneaten. Wild dogs that fre-
quently kill or maim sheep often eat other
prey, indicating that predation of livestock
may be independent of the abundance of
other prey. Surplus killing, where more
sheep are killed than are needed for food,
means that stock losses can be high even
when wild dogs are at low densities.
Wild dogs are implicated in the spread of
hydatids, a risk to human health and the cause
of losses of production associated with hydati-
dosis (causal agent Echinococcus granulosus)
in cattle and sheep. They also provide a reser-
voir for heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) infec-
tion and dog diseases such as parvovirus
(causal agent Parvovirus). Wild dogs pose the
greatest potential risk of maintaining and
spreading dog rabies (Rhabdoviridae) if it
were to be introduced to Australia.
Conservation of dingoes
The dingo is usually considered a native
Australian mammal. Dingoes are an intrinsic
part of natural ecosystems and they also
have aesthetic value. There is some public
expectation that dingoes should be con-
served and dingoes are legally protected in
some States and Territories. In Australian
wildlife communities, wild dogs are top
order predators, and as such probably have a
major influence on the abundance of the
species they compete with or prey on. The
interactions between wild dogs and foxes
(Vulpes vulpes) are not well understood. It is
unknown whether the presence wild dogs
reduces fox abundance and hence whether
wild dogs reduce the impact of foxes on
native animal prey.
The greatest threat to the survival of dingoes
as a protected sub-species is hybridisation
with other dogs. In the more settled coastal
areas of Australia and increasingly in out-
back Australia, the barriers to mating
between domestic dogs (feral and owned)
and dingoes are rapidly being removed.
Hence hybridisation is becoming more com-
mon and the pure dingo gene pool is being
swamped. In south-eastern Australia, more
than half the wild dogs are hybrids. Changes
to policies on wild dog management and
people’s attitudes would be needed to pre-
vent the extinction of pure dingoes on the
mainland. The main hope for conservation is
to educate people about the plight of din-
goes and to manage pure dingoes on large
islands such as Fraser Island and Melville
Community attitudes affecting
Opinions vary as to the pest status of din-
goes and other wild dogs. People in the agri-
cultural sector often view wild dogs as a pest
to be removed from the environment. In
contrast, Aboriginal peoples, urban people
and conservationists often view dingoes as
native wildlife that should be conserved.
Public opinion influences not only the type
of management strategies that are developed
but also the type of control methods that are
used. Wider public attitudes rightly demand
that the techniques used for wild dog control
be as humane as possible and minimise risks
to non-target animals and other environmen-
tal values. Management strategies that do not
address or acknowledge broad community
attitudes are susceptible to disruption or
Bureau of Rural Sciences
Past and current management
In the past, legislation for the management
of wild dogs has included punitive Acts and
Acts dealing with the conservation of
wildlife. Management of wild dogs relied
heavily on labour-intensive techniques, such
as trapping, shooting, and ground baiting,
with bounty payments being offered as an
incentive to kill dogs. Much of the control
work was reactive, dealing with problems as
they arose. Nevertheless, some strategic, pre-
ventative control was carried out including
the construction of district-wide exclusion
The dingo is extinct in much of the sheep
and cereal production zones of eastern and
southern Australia because of habitat modifi-
cation and the success of early poisoning
campaigns. The areas that are largely with-
out wild dogs are separated from areas
where they are still present by dog-proof
fences that were erected around the turn of
the century and are still maintained.
In most States and Territories, there is a legal
requirement to destroy wild dogs in sheep
and cattle grazing zones. Poisoning pro-
grams form the basis of lethal control efforts
although trapping and shooting are also
Current management strategies focus on the
objective of minimising the impact of wild
dog predation on livestock, not just on
killing wild dogs. Aerial baiting with 1080
(sodium fluoroacetate) baits forms a major
part of most management programs and is
primarily targeted at limited zones adjacent
to livestock grazing areas. Large coordinated
campaigns have generally been adopted,
being more efficient and effective than small
localised efforts. Bounty payments have not
been successful in reducing predation by
wild dogs and are subject to abuse.
Policy and legislation to encourage the con-
servation of pure dingoes is required in
some States and Territories and a concerted
nation-wide effort is needed to ensure that
dingo conservation is not thwarted by con-
flicting legislation. Simultaneously, the con-
trol of wild dogs, including dingoes, must be
permitted where predation of livestock
Techniques to measure and manage
impact and abundance
To formulate wild dog management plans, it
is necessary to measure the level of preda-
tion inflicted by wild dogs and to measure
changes in wild dog abundance. These two
measures enable an assessment of when
wild dog control is required and how effec-
tive it is.
The principal techniques to control wild
dogs are exclusion fencing, shooting, trap-
ping and poisoning. Poisoning using 1080 is
the most cost-effective means of reducing
populations of wild dogs over large areas of
remote or inaccessible country. Various bait
types are used and methods of placement
range from burying individual baits to drop-
ping baits from aircraft. Trapping is still used
for wild dog control and will probably
always be needed to target particular dogs
that cannot be removed by other means.
New techniques such as the use of livestock-
guarding dogs, poison ejecting devices and
toxic collars have been suggested as alterna-
tives to current methods.
Strategic approach to management
The strategic approach to wild dog manage-
ment allows improvements at both the local
and regional scale. The strategic approach
has four components: defining the problem;
developing a management plan; implement-
ing the plan; and monitoring and evaluating
progress and outcomes.
Defining the problem involves the identifica-
tion of who has a wild dog problem, what
harm the dogs cause, where, when and why
damage occurs and how much it costs.
The development of a management plan
requires setting management objectives that
should include interim and long-term goals,
a time frame for achieving them and indica-
tors for measuring performance. Options for
wild dog control include local eradication,
strategic management, reactive management
or no dog control.
Economic frameworks are needed for assess-
ing the value of alternative strategies to man-
age wild dogs. In some situations, manage-
ment plans that include conservation strategies
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs 3
for dingoes are required so that potentially
conflicting goals can be encompassed.
Consultation between stakeholders and clear
identification of the goals is critical for avoiding
potential conflicts between stakeholder groups
with different legal obligations and objectives.
Wild dogs have large home ranges and often
traverse boundaries between lands managed
by different stakeholders. Action by groups,
including government agencies, is therefore
an essential element of planning and imple-
mentation. By pooling resources, wild dog
control groups and boards have been better
able to manage wild dog problems.
Management programs must be flexible
enough to account for the different objec-
tives of stakeholders.
Monitoring and evaluation occur at different
levels throughout the implementation and
on completion of actions. Operational moni-
toring records and reviews the costs of
actions during the program and ensures that
the management plan is executed in the
most cost-effective manner. Performance
monitoring assesses the effectiveness of the
management plan in meeting the agricultural
production or conservation objectives that
were established initially. Evaluation of data
from both forms of monitoring enables the
continuing refinement of the management
plan. Strategic management of wild dogs is
based on the concept of adaptive manage-
ment, in which the management plan is flex-
ible, responding to measured changes in
economic, environmental and pest circum-
stances. By adopting the strategic approach,
predation by wild dogs should be minimised
while the conservation of the dingo propor-
tion of the wild dog population will be
enhanced. Under such an approach, limited
resources will be better allocated and the
scale of management will be more appropri-
ate for wild dog problems.
Deficiencies in knowledge and
Although there is much knowledge about
the ecology, behaviour and effects of preda-
tion by dingoes and other wild dogs, some
topics require further research to enable best
practice management to be implemented.
These include better definition of the agricul-
tural impacts of wild dogs and control pro-
grams for different enterprises in different
regions, study of the interactions between
the control of rabbits and wild dog predation
of livestock and the effects of wild dog con-
trol on the abundance of kangaroos and wal-
labies (Macropus spp.), and the effects of
this on agriculture and forestry. There are
also knowledge deficits relating to the con-
servation of dingoes, the effects of wild dog
control programs on persistence of pure din-
goes, the interactions between predation by
wild dogs and the conservation status of
non-target animals, and the interactions of
wild dogs with feral cats, foxes and native
Bureau of Rural Sciences
These guidelines for managing the impacts
of dingoes (Canis lupus dingo) and other
wild dogs (C.l. familiaris) are the eighth in
the Managing Vertebrate Pests series being
published by the Bureau of Rural Sciences
(BRS) in cooperation with the Vertebrate
Pests Committee of the Standing Committee
on Agriculture and Resource Management
(SCARM). These guidelines were funded
under the agricultural component of the
National Feral Animal Control Program
(NFACP) of the Natural Heritage Trust
(NHT). A fundamental difference between
these guidelines and the preceding publica-
tions exists because dingoes hold a legal
position unique amongst Australian mam-
mals. Unlike most of the other species
addressed by the series, dingoes are simulta-
neously a protected native species and
declared vermin. The dingo and some native
birds and rodents are both protected and
declared according to their occurrence and
Other guidelines in the series include those
for managing feral horses (Dobbie et al.
1993), rabbits (Williams et al. 1995), foxes
(Saunders et al. 1995), feral goats (Parkes et
al. 1996), feral pigs (Choquenot et al. 1996),
rodents (Caughley et al. 1998) and carp
(Koehn et al. 2000). A companion volume,
Managing Vertebrate Pests: Principles and
Strategies (Braysher 1993), which explains
the principles on which best practice pest
management is based, can be read in con-
junction with all of these guidelines. There is
also an overarching publication (Olsen
1998), designed for general reading, which
reviews past management of pest animals in
Australia and promotes a more strategic
approach for future management. The bene-
fits of focusing on the damage caused by a
pest and not the pest itself are explained.
Olsen (1998) also explains the need to take
into account the links between different feral
animal species and other aspects of land
management, consistent with the holistic
approach advocated under the Ecologically
Sustainable Development (ESD) Strategy and
A single publication considering the main
vertebrate pests would be desirable and con-
sistent with the holistic approach to land
management advocated under the ESD
Strategy and Landcare objectives. Such a
publication would take into account links
between pests and links between pests and
other aspects of land management.
However, the complexities posed by such an
approach and current limited knowledge of
interspecific interactions has made this
impractical. All the guidelines, including
these, consider interactions between species
and the relationships with other aspects of
land management.
These guidelines are principally for State and
Territory land management agencies, to
assist them to better coordinate, plan and
implement regional and local programs that
can more effectively manage adverse
impacts of wild dogs. The Commonwealth
Government has an interest in improving
strategies, techniques and approaches to
manage the damage caused by wild dogs,
both through its responsibilities as a manag-
er of Commonwealth lands and resources,
and through programs such as NFACP and
the National Landcare Program (NLP) of the
NHT, and the National Strategy for the
Conservation of Australia’s Biological Diversity
(Commonwealth of Australia 1992).
Vertebrate pests in Australia: species
or situations?
The definition of pest status can be con-
tentious. Some species are regarded as pests
all the time in all situations because of their
current detrimental impacts or their potential
adverse impacts, given their biology,
behaviour and historical performance as
pests in similar or other habitats. Other ani-
mals are generally regarded as having either
beneficial or neutral net impact in most situa-
tions. Some species, such as the dingo and
the feral goat, may be both a significant pest
and a significant conservation or economic
resource. Perhaps the most useful criterion
for evaluating the status of an animal is to
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs 5
evaluate it in terms of its value in a particular
situation. For example, cats are valued highly
as pets by many people and some pedigree
cats have a high market price. Conversely,
predation by feral cats is regarded as a pro-
cess threatening some endangered native
vertebrates with extinction (Dickman 1996).
The National Feral Animal Control
NFACP is working with State, Territory, and
local governments to reduce damage by pest
animals to agriculture and the environment.
The agricultural component of NFACP is
administered by BRS; the environmental
component by Environment Australia.
Under its component of NFACP, BRS is pro-
ducing these national management guide-
lines for the main pest species of agricultural
production and supporting projects to
address the information, management and
extension deficiencies they identify and to
demonstrate the strategic management
approaches they advocate.
Applying a strategic approach to the man-
agement of the impacts of wild dogs involves
the establishment of four essential compo-
nents (Figure 1) This approach has been
adopted in the development of each set of
national guidelines.
The strategic management approach
Problem definition and planning of
management strategies
There are two problems requiring manage-
ment. The first problem is predation of live-
stock by dingoes and other wild dogs.
Although there are no estimates of the
Australia-wide losses to livestock production
caused by wild dogs (including dingoes), the
estimated annual expenditure on control
activities of $7 million is second only to that
for rabbits. The historical threat of predation
by wild dogs has largely determined the distri-
bution of sheep and cattle in Australia. A barri-
er fence stretching from the Great Australian
Bight through South Australia and
Queensland and ending in north-eastern New
South Wales has been built and maintained by
government agents and graziers to exclude
wild dogs from sheep grazing lands.
Secondly, the dingo has been in Australia
long enough to be regarded as part of the
native fauna. The existing dynamics of
Australia’s fauna have evolved with the
dingo and the conservation of dingoes within
non-agricultural environments is a legitimate
aim. Since European settlement, the increas-
ing presence in the population of genes from
feral and domestic dogs has reduced the
dingo population’s integrity. If this trend
continues it is predicted that the increasing
occurrence of domestic dog genes in wild
populations will effectively lead to the
extinction on the mainland of the dingo as a
subspecies by 2100 (Corbett 1995a).
Strategies to conserve pure dingoes can con-
flict with strategies to control wild dogs to
reduce their impacts on livestock enterpris-
es. Developing approaches to satisfactorily
address both problems requires clarification
of issues and knowledge of the biology and
status of dingoes and other wild dogs. Thus,
Chapter 1 discusses the taxonomy of dingoes
and other wild dogs, and details their origins,
distribution and abundance, and Chapter 2
reviews their biology and ecology. In
Chapter 3, the impacts of wild dogs on
human activity and environments are dis-
cussed. Public attitudes can strongly influ-
ence the perceived nature of dingoes and
other wild dogs as a resource or as a prob-
lem, and these issues are addressed in
Chapter 4. The legal status of dingoes and
other wild dogs, and past and current man-
agement practices, are reviewed in Chapter
The objective of the national guidelines is to
stimulate a widespread change in approach
to the management of dingoes and other
wild dogs from ad hoc measures to a strate-
gic management approach based on cooper-
ative action and the most recent knowledge.
An integrated approach on a regional or total
catchment scale is advocated because the
problems associated with dingoes and wild
dogs usually extend past the boundaries of
individual land holdings.
Bureau of Rural Sciences
The primary aim of a land manager is to
meet their desired conservation and/or agri-
cultural production goals using practical and
cost-effective means. This must be done as
humanely as possible and without degrading
other natural resources on which the long-
term sustainability of agriculture and biodi-
versity depend. There is great variability
within and between the environments in
which wild dogs occur and this influences
management activities. The factors that affect
the desired outcomes include fluctuating
commodity prices, legal constraints, climatic
variability including drought, interactions of
wild dogs with prey, grazing pressure, live-
stock genetics, conservation objectives, ani-
mal welfare considerations and social fac-
Legislative constraints and the extensive
nature of wild dog predation problems have
resulted in a strategic approach being manifest
in many areas. These guidelines will have
achieved their purpose if the advocated strate-
gic approach is widely accepted and imple-
mented. Strategic management requires the
measurement of the impacts and abundance
of wild dogs, and this can be achieved in a
number of ways which are detailed in Chapter
6. Many people and agencies, including gov-
ernments and community groups, jointly own
wild dog problems and need to work coopera-
tively to find strategic solutions (Chapter 4 and
Chapter 7). In some cases, inadequacies in
available knowledge may prevent identifica-
tion of the best strategy. A flexible approach,
where the implementation of management
actions are continually monitored and evaluat-
ed and modified if necessary (‘learning by
doing’ or ‘adaptive management’) is often the
best approach. Strategic approaches to the
management of dingoes and other wild dogs
are described in Chapter 7.
Implementation, monitoring and
evaluation of strategic programs
A group approach to the implementation of
management programs reflecting coopera-
tion between individuals and agencies at the
local and regional level is encouraged
throughout the guidelines and Chapter 7
outlines features to aid the implementation
of management plans. A group approach
involves all affected landholders and others
with a significant interest in the management
and conservation issues associated with din-
goes and other wild dogs from early plan-
ning stages through to implementation,
monitoring and evaluation.
At a national level, such an approach
requires that the various roles and responsi-
bilities of government agencies, individuals
and interest groups are taken into account
and integrated. State and Territory govern-
ments provide the legislative and regulatory
infrastructure, and conservation and pest
control agencies administer the appropriate
Acts and regulations. Responsibility for local
management of wild dogs rests with the
owners and occupiers or administrators of
land. The active participation of the
Vertebrate Pests Committee (VPC) and all
associated government agencies in develop-
ing these guidelines is thus important in
obtaining their acceptance and support for
implementation by both agricultural and
conservation interests.
For a strategic management program to be
successful, it must be continually monitored
and evaluated so that modifications and
improvements can be incorporated. Such
monitoring, evaluation and re-evaluation is
an ongoing process and techniques for
assessing impacts and monitoring manage-
ment practices and programs are detailed in
Chapter 6.
Strategic management at the local
and regional level
The management of wild dogs is a complex
issue because the pest status and conservation
status of the species must be balanced. This
document presents the best practices for the
management of dingoes and other wild dogs.
Management must attempt to reduce the
adverse impacts of wild dogs while maintain-
ing viable populations of genetically pure din-
goes and these guidelines amalgamate the
best available information on effective
approaches. These guidelines consider the
conservation values of dingoes and the influ-
ence of hybridisation on their genetic integrity.
Conservation priorities affect management
decisions for wild dogs, particularly at the
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs 7
interface of developed agricultural lands and
land managed for conservation. The emphasis
in these guidelines is therefore to concentrate
on managing the impacts of wild dogs on agri-
cultural and environmental resources while
conserving the dingo as a sub-species. At the
local and regional level, land managers need
to use the information in the book to develop
and apply their own strategies. Examples of
successful strategic approaches, both hypo-
thetical and real, involving private and govern-
ment land managers are given in Chapter 7.
These guidelines outline best practices based
on present knowledge. A number of defi-
ciencies in that knowledge are identified in
Chapter 8. It is expected that best practices
will evolve through adaptive management
and that community-based groups will
become more involved in the strategic man-
agement of wild dogs. These guidelines
allow local groups to own the pest or conser-
vation problem as well as management
strategies derived from the guidelines. It is
intended that these guidelines will also assist
State and Territory governments in their role
of providing legislative, technical and policy
support for the management of dingoes and
other wild dogs.
All dollars have been converted to
1999–2000 Australian dollars unless
otherwise stated in the text.
Bureau of Rural Sciences
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs 9
Problem definition
(Chapters 3 and 4
and Sections 6.2,
6.3 and 7.2)
• what is the problem
– predation
– conservation
• who has the problem
• who else is involved
• define impact
– economic
– environmental
• measure impact
• mapping
Management Plan
(Chapters 5 and 6 and
Section 7.3)
• define objectives
• partnerships
• government role
• select management options
– local eradication
– conservation
strategic management
– reactive management
– no dog control
• develop a management
• define performance
(Sections 6.4 and
• group action
– ownership
• whole farm
• government role
• monitoring regime
Monitoring and
(Sections 6.2, 6.3 and
• assess control and
• compare over time
• compare techniques
• evaluation of
Figure 1: Strategic approach to managing the impacts of wild dogs (after Braysher 1993).
There is currently debate about the correct
taxonomy of dingoes and other wild dogs.
Both are derived from wolves (Canis lupus
ssp.). In this book, the scientific names Canis
lupus dingo and Canis lupus familiaris are
recommended for the subspecies dingo and
domestic dog respectively.
Dingoes were brought to Australia from Asia
about 4000 years ago. They were present in
Asia possibly 10 000 to 14 000 years ago
and were derived from wolves. The dispersal
of dingoes throughout Australia was aided
by Aboriginal people who used dingoes for
food, companions, hunting-aids and bed-
warmers. The dingo never reached
Tasmania. Domestic dogs were brought into
Australia by Europeans as early as 1788
and their release into the wild has contin-
ued since then.
The distribution of dingoes in Australia has
decreased since European settlement, although
the abundance of wild dogs in some areas
may have increased due to the provision of
permanent water. Food, water and cover are
probably the most important factors affecting
the distribution of wild dogs in areas without
intensive control. Dog-proof fences that protect
sheep from predation also limit the distribution
of wild dogs.
1.1 Nomenclature
The scientific names applied to animals that
have been selected by domestication are at
present the subject of much debate in taxo-
nomic circles (Gentry et al. 1996; Brisbin
1998). Wild-living dogs of Australia are mem-
bers of the family Canidae, belonging to the
order Carnivora. The dog, C. familiaris, is
the type species for the genus Canis,
although it is not considered a natural
species but rather one developed by humans
from grey wolves (C. lupus) (Stains 1975).
Analyses of chromosomes have shown that
the karyotypes of C. lupus and C. familiaris
cannot be differentiated (Chiarelli 1975).
While this does not assist in the differentia-
tion of Canis species, it demonstrates recent
or close common evolutionary lineage.
The name ‘dingo’ is probably a European cor-
ruption of the word ‘tingo’, used by Aboriginal
people at Port Jackson to describe camp din-
goes (Thomson 1870). Other Aboriginal names
for dingoes include ‘warrigal’, ‘maliki’ (camp
dogs) and ‘wantibirri’ (wild dingoes)
(Breckwoldt 1988). The scientific name of the
dingo has undergone much synonymy but in
1982, the specific designation Canis lupus
dingo was recommended (Honacki et al.
1982). This name was proposed to reflect their
wolf ancestry, the uniformity of dingo popula-
tions throughout their huge distribution in Asia
and Australia and ‘universal usage’; however,
C. l. dingo is not in common usage. Of 109
documents in a search for the keyword ‘dingo’
in the Wildlife Worldwide database, 1935 to
June 1995 (National Information Services
Corporation), none used this nomenclature.
Canis familiaris dingo was the most common-
ly used name for dingoes. Domestic and feral
dogs were usually grouped as C. f. familiaris.
The name C. f. dingo has not been suppressed
and is still in common usage (Dr J. Clutton-
Brock, British Museum, London, pers. comm.
The names C. f. dingo for the dingo proportion
of the wild dog population and C. f. familiaris
for both wild-living and commensal domestic
dogs have the greatest use in scientific litera-
ture. It logically follows from the derivation by
human selection of both dingoes and dogs
from wolves and the genetic similarities that all
three animals should be C. lupus. Wolves are
morphologically separable from both dingoes
and domestic breeds of dog (Lawrence and
Bossert 1967) and have such morphological
and behavioural dissimilarities (Newsome et al.
1980) for all three to be considered separate
subspecies allocated sub-specific names,
lupus, dingo and familiaris respectively. This
delineation of the classification of dingoes and
other wild dogs has the potential to affect man-
agement strategies through acts of law (Brisbin
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs 11
1. Nomenclature, history, distribution and abundance
Corbett (1995a) concludes that wild-living
dogs in Australia are subspecies of C. lupus,
that is C. l. dingo and C. l. familiaris, but
these designations are yet to be formally
accepted (Corbett 1995b). However, because
of genetic similarities that indicate common
lineage with wolves and sufficient differ-
ences that they justifiably be regarded as dis-
tinct sub-species, the recommended nomen-
clature is: dingoes, C. l. dingo; and domestic
dogs, C. l. familiaris. Recent evidence, based
on skull morphology, size, coat colour and
reproduction, indicates the existence of
regionally distinct populations of dingoes
between Australia and Thailand (Corbett
1985; 1995a) but not within Australia
(Corbett in press).
‘Delineation of the
classification of dingoes and
other wild dogs has the potential
to affect management strategies
through acts of law’.
The terms wild dog, feral dog, dingo and
hybrids mean different things. We define the
various meanings as follows:
Dingoes: native dogs of Asia. Dingoes were
present in Australia before European settle-
ment and still occur in the wild here. Pure
dingoes are populations or individuals that
have not hybridised with domestic dogs or
Domestic dogs: dog breeds (other than din-
goes) selectively bred by humans, initially
from wolves and/or dingoes, that usually
live in association with humans. Introduced
to Australia by European settlers.
Hybrids: dogs resulting from crossbreeding
of a dingo and a domestic dog and the
descendants of crossbred progeny.
Wild dogs: all wild-living dogs (including
dingoes and hybrids).
Feral dogs: wild-living domestic dogs.
Free-roaming dogs: dogs that are owned
by humans but not restrained so they are free
to travel away from their owner’s residence.
Commensal dogs: wild dogs (including
dingoes and free-roaming domestic dogs)
living in close association with but indepen-
dently of humans.
Where we were unable to ascertain the sta-
tus of animals in the publications consulted,
we have followed the original authors’
usage. Whether this usage is in accordance
with the above definitions is unknown.
1.2 Origin, spread and
distribution of dingoes
throughout the world
Recent work using molecular techniques
(DNA fingerprinting) indicates that a dingo-
like canid existed perhaps 100 000 before pre-
sent (BP) and that it was distinctly dingo-like
about 10 000–14 000 BP (Gentry et al. 1996).
However, the earliest known dingo-like fos-
sils are from Thailand (dated at 5500 BP) and
Vietnam (5000 BP) (Higham et al. 1980).
Based on skull morphology, these early
canids evolved from the pale-footed (also
known as the Indian) wolf (C. l. pallipes)
and/or the Arabian wolf (C. l. arabs) between
6000 and 10 000 years ago (Corbett 1995a).
‘The dingo’s general
morphology has remained
virtually unchanged for the past
5500 years, although this
situation is now rapidly
changing through hybridisation
with domestic dogs.’
This phase of rapid evolution coincided with
the time when people in southern Asia
changed their nomadic hunter-gatherer
lifestyle to a settled agricultural subsistence
that allowed commensal relationships to
develop between wild animals and people
(Clutton-Brock 1989; 1992). Effectively this
was the start of the evolution of the early
dingo-like canids into dingoes and other dogs,
but subsequent evolution proceeded along
different pathways in western and eastern
Asia, and at different rates.
In western Asia and southern Europe, people
selectively bred these primitive canids to
improve the characteristics of dogs for hunting,
herding, hauling, guarding, scavenging and
Bureau of Rural Sciences
fighting, as well as for therapeutic, companion,
symbolic and novelty values (that is, domesti-
cation). The outcome is the immense range of
size, shape, colour and temperament found in
the 600 or so modern domestic breeds of dogs.
In eastern Asia, people used the early canids
for food, hunting, alerting and perhaps for
cultural reasons, but they were not selective-
ly bred. Morphological comparisons of skulls
of the early Asian fossils show a close simi-
larity with modern dingoes from Thailand
and Australia, but a clear difference to mod-
ern domestic dogs (Corbett 1985; 1995a).
There are also close similarities in body
shape, breeding pattern, coat colour and
social behaviours between dingoes in south-
east Asia and Australia. This indicates that
the dingo’s general morphology has
remained virtually unchanged for the past
5500 years, although this situation is now
rapidly changing through hybridisation with
domestic dogs (Section 2.9).
The early dingo became cosmopolitan through
its association with the movements of early
humans as their populations expanded
(Bellwood 1978, 1984; Thorne and Raymond
1989). It was during this expansion that din-
goes were transported to Australia where the
most recent introductions were by the
Macassan trepangers (90–350 years ago)
(Macknight 1976), and the ‘boat people’ from
Vietnam and Indonesia.
Dingoes probably accompanied the Asian
seafarers mainly as a source of fresh food
during long sea voyages, or as guard dogs
during stopovers. There were also cultural
reasons for transporting dingoes (Clutton-
Brock 1977; Medway 1977;Corbett 1995a).
The primitive dogs of most Pacific islands
(Titcombe 1969), the ancient kirri dog of
New Zealand (Colenso 1877; Bay-Petersen
1979), the basenji in the African Congo (Coe
1997), and the New Guinea singing dog
(Troughton 1957) are descended from south-
east Asian dingoes. According to fossil evi-
dence, the primitive dogs of the Americas
were also morphologically very similar to
dingoes and they probably arrived there
together with people via the Bering Strait
(Olsen and Olsen 1977). The Carolina dog is
the remaining descendent of the early
Amerindian canids (Brisbin 1989).
1.3 Introduction, spread and
distribution of dingoes and
other wild dogs in Australia
1.3.1 Introduction to Australia
The oldest reliably dated dingo remains in
Australia are from 3450 ± 95 years BP
(Milham and Thompson 1976) and fossils of
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs 13
Thai dingo, which has similar morphology to the Australian dingo (Source: L. Corbett).
about this age have been found throughout
mainland Australia (White and O’Connell
1982). This suggests that, having reached this
continent, dingoes colonised the mainland
and many offshore islands quickly and com-
pletely, although they never inhabited
This dispersal was probably assisted by
Aboriginal people who had arrived on the
continent at least 40 thousand years earlier.
Some Aboriginal tribes used dingoes to hunt
game, especially kangaroos and wallabies
(Macropus spp.), possums (Phalangeroidea)
and echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus). Some
Aboriginal people suckled pups and slept with
dingoes for warmth (Lumholtz 1889; Finlayson
1935; White 1972; Dixon and Huxley 1985;
Pickering 1992). Dingoes are well-represented
in Aboriginal mythology and rock art
(Breckwoldt 1988).
Domestic dogs were first introduced into
Australia in 1788 (Australian Geographic
Society 1996) and dispersal into the wild
(both deliberate and accidental) has been
continuing since then. The assumed source
of feral dogs in Australia is the abandon-
ment, neglect, loss or deliberate release into
the wild of domestic dogs by humans since
1788 (Gould 1863; Corbett 1995a). Although
there are few records of such releases, their
occurrence is supported by reports of free-
living dogs of specific breeds being seen or
captured in remote areas (Newsome and
Corbett 1985; Jones 1990; Corbett 1995a).
Some of the larger feral dogs may have been
bred to hunt feral pigs and other game and
become lost on hunting expeditions. The
incidence of C. l. familiaris and hybrids in
wild dog populations is higher in south-east-
ern Australia than in inland and north-west-
ern Australia (Newsome and Corbett 1982;
1985; Jones 1990; Thomson 1992a).
1.3.2 Distribution in Australia
The distribution of dingoes in Australia (Figure
2) has been reduced since European settle-
ment in 1788, when dingoes occurred through-
out the mainland. For example, in South
Australia they now occupy about 60% of their
former range (P. Bird, Primary Industries and
Resources, South Australia, pers. comm. 1999).
However, the abundance of dingoes is likely to
have increased over much of their remaining
range (Corbett 1995a) as a result of increases in
watering points and food supplies. Dingoes
and other wild dogs are widely distributed
through mainland Australia to the north and
west of the barrier fence (Breckwoldt 1988;
Thomson and Marsack 1992). Most popula-
tions throughout Australia comprise pure din-
goes, although in south-eastern Australia the
majority are hybrids (Figure 2) (Newsome and
Corbett 1985; Jones 1990).
‘Control by humans has
had significant impact on the
distribution and abundance of
wild dogs since European
In Queensland, most wild dogs occur out-
side the Dog Fence (Figure 2 and Chapter 6)
which surrounds the sheep grazing areas of
central and southern Queensland although
there is no information about relative dog
densities either side of the fence (Fleming et
al. 1992). Although wild dogs sporadically
occur in the Western Division inside the Dog
Fence that runs along the north-western bor-
ders of New South Wales, wild dogs are most
abundant and most commonly occur in
tableland and coastal environments in the
east of the State. The highest densities and
greatest impact of wild dogs are in the
Northern and Southern Tablelands, the latter
being contiguous with the Eastern Highlands
of Victoria which is the location of most wild
dogs in that State (Mitchell 1986). The activi-
ties of free-roaming dogs are most commonly
centred near towns and cities (Coman and
Robinson 1989; Meek 1999).
The absence of wild dogs from most of the
more closely settled and agriculturally devel-
oped areas, and areas within the exclusion
fence, indicates that control by humans has
had a significant impact on the distribution
and abundance of wild dogs since European
Bureau of Rural Sciences
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs 15
Generally common, but high levels of
control within parts of this zone mean that
dingoes may be absent in certain areas.
Naturally sparse
Predominantly cattle
Predominantly sheep
Sheep and Cattle
Dingoes, hybrids and feral dogs
Known hybridisation with feral dogs
Area within recently rehabilitated
Queensland Barrier Fence.
Dingo numbers likely to decline.
Mostly pure dingoes - above dashed line
Distribution of Wild Dogs
Distribution of Livestock
Canberra Sydney
Fraser Island
Fraser Island
Canberra Sydney
Section of
rabbit-proof fence
within dog-proof fence
Section of
rabbit-proof fence
within dog-proof fence
Figure 2: Distribution of wild dogs and livestock (after Breckwoldt 1988; Corbett 1995a; Fleming 1996b)
The average adult dingo in Australia stands
57 centimetres at the shoulder, is 123 cen-
timetres long from nose to tail tip and
weighs 16 kilograms. Dingoes are smaller in
Asia. Feral dogs of up to 60 kilograms have
been recorded but most are less than 20
kilograms and their height and length are
similarly variable.
The coat of dingoes is typically ginger but
varies from sandy-yellow to red-ginger and
is occasionally black-and-tan, white or
black. Most dingoes have white markings on
the feet, tail tip and chest, some have black
muzzles and all have upright ears and
bushy tails. Coats with a dark dorsal strip or
dappling in the white areas usually indicate
hybrids. Both hybrids and feral dogs have
highly variable coat colours and patterns.
Pure dingoes have only one oestrus cycle in
a year whereas hybrids and domestic dogs
may have two cycles. Dingoes also differ
from hybrids and domestic dogs in some
skull characteristics and dingoes usually do
not bark whereas most hybrids and domestic
dogs do. Hybridisation between dingoes and
other wild dogs is becoming more common.
The present distribution of dingoes and
other wild dogs covers most of the mainland
except for the sheep and cereal growing
areas of south-eastern Australia. They prefer
habitats that have adequate free water and
cover for concealment. Wild dogs live in
small groups or packs in territories where the
home ranges of individuals vary between 10
and 300 square kilometres. However, there
is considerable overlap in the home ranges
of pack members. Wild dogs eat a diverse
range of foods, from insects to buffalo.
Hunting group size and hunting strategies
differ according to prey type to maximise
hunting success. Larger groups of wild dogs
are more successful when hunting large
kangaroos and cattle and solitary dogs are
more successful when hunting rabbits and
small macropods. The main prey are: mag-
pie geese, rodents and agile wallabies in the
Top End (Kakadu National Park); rabbits,
rodents, lizards and red kangaroos in cen-
tral Australia; euros and red kangaroos in
north-west Australia; rabbits in the
Nullarbor region; and wallabies, possums
and wombats in eastern Australia. In Asia
most dingoes have a commensal relation-
ship with humans and mainly eat rice, veg-
etables and other table scraps.
Female dingoes become sexually mature by
two years, although some do not breed in
droughts. Males in arid Australia also have
a seasonal breeding cycle of about six
months. Gestation takes about 63 days and
litters of 1–10 pups (the average is 5) are
whelped in winter, usually in an under-
ground den. Dingo pups usually forage
independently of their parents at 3–4
months or, if in a pack, when the next
breeding season begins. In eastern Australia
pups may become independent at 6 months
or stay in the family group for up to 12
2.1 General description
2.1.1 Size and coat colour
The average measurements of a mature
dingo in Australia are: total length, 123 cen-
timetres; shoulder height, 57 centimetres;
head length, 22 centimetres; ear length, 10
centimetres; hindfoot length, 19 centimetres;
tail length, 31 centimetres; and weight, 16
kilograms (Thomson 1992a; Corbett 1995a;).
Males are universally larger and heavier than
females. Dingoes from northern and north-
western Australia are larger than dingoes in
central and southern regions. All Australian
dingoes are heavier than their Asian counter-
parts (Corbett 1995a). Feral dogs may weigh
up to 60 kilograms (Korn and Fleming 1989)
but are usually 11–24 kilograms (males), and
10–22 kilograms (females) (Jones 1990).
Free-roaming domestic dogs in Meek’s
(1998) study near Jervis Bay ranged from
15–31 kilograms.
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs 17
2. Biology and ecology
Bureau of Rural Sciences
Hybridisation may be obvious as in this case, but other hybrids may be hard to distinguish from pure dingoes, posing
management problems in conservation areas (Source: L. Corbett).
Feral dogs may weigh up to 60 kilograms (Source: P. Fleming).
In order of frequency of occurrence, the coat
colours of pure dingoes are: ginger (red to
sandy), black and tan, white and black
(Newsome and Corbett 1985). Most dingoes
have white points (white toes, white feet or
white socks and a white tail tip) (Newsome
and Corbett 1985; Thomson 1992a). According
to early explorers’ reports, solid black dingoes,
widespread throughout Asia, may once have
been widespread in Australia (‘Collin’s
Voyage’, undated c. 1790 and ‘Mr Gilbert’s
note’, undated, cited in Gould 1863) but they
have been rarely recorded in Australia in
recent times. However, animals from a popu-
lation in the Victorian and South Australian
mallee are consistently black with white points
(P. Bird, Primary Industries and Resources,
South Australia, pers. comm. 1999).
All other colours including sable (sandy with
black shoulders and back, commonly seen in
German Shepherd breeds), brindle, patchy
ginger and white and patchy black and white
indicate hybrids or domestic dogs. Ginger-
coloured hybrids, usually resulting from hybri-
dising with heelers, kelpies or collies, appear
very similar to pure dingoes and are often
impossible to distinguish on external features
(Figure 3).
2.1.2 Longevity and methods to
assess age of wild dogs
In the wild, dingoes can live for 10 years and
feral dogs for at least 12 years, but most die
at about 5–7 years. Methods to estimate the
age of wild dogs use: head length and eye-
lens weight (Catling et al. 1991); the weight
or length of bacula (penis bones — juvenile,
immature and mature adult age classes); the
eruption pattern of adult teeth (useful up to
6 months); tooth wear (6–12 months), and
the annular cementum bands in the root tis-
sue of teeth (dogs older than 12 months)
(Jones 1990). Alternative methods use clo-
sure of the foramen at the root tip of canine
teeth to distinguish juveniles from older ani-
mals; and for dingoes with closed root tips
on all canines, the width of the pulp cavity of
canine teeth distinguishes yearlings from
adults (Thomson and Rose 1992). Direct
observation is also used to distinguish juve-
niles from older animals.
2.1.3 Water needs
Wild dogs generally drink water every day,
about one litre in summer and half a litre in
winter (Newsome et al. 1973). In winter in
Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs 19
Figure 3: The pelts of wild dogs, showing a variety of colours (Source: NSW Agriculture).
arid areas, when prey such as long-haired
rats (Rattus villosissimus) are plentiful, din-
goes may live solely by absorbing water
from prey (Green 1973). Also, in arid central
Australia, many weaned pups obtain most of
their water from food. Females have some-
times been observed to carry water in their
bellies to dens and regurgitate it for their
pups (Corbett and Newsome 1975).
During lactation, captive females have
almost no increase in their water intake
because they ingest the faeces and urine of
their small pups, thus recycling the water
they contain as well as keeping the den
clean (Green 1973). Wild-living dogs proba-
bly have higher rates of water turnover than
dogs fed by people because they need to
pursue and catch their own food.
2.2 Habitats
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, dingoes
occurred across all of mainland Australia but
were absent from Tasmania. They probably
occupied all habitats, although at various
densities. Today, the overall distribution of
dingoes has been reduced by the long histo-
ry of control and exclusion fencing, particu-
larly in the sheep grazing areas of the conti-
nent (Figure 2). They are absent from the
majority of New South Wales and Victoria
except for the eastern highlands and coast of
both States, from the south-east third of
South Australia, and from most of the south-
west tip of Western Australia (Figure 2).
‘Dingo numbers may
have increased greatly in some
arid areas since European
settlement as a result of the
pastoral industry, more
watering points and the
introduction of rabbits.’
Habitat use by wild dogs has not been stud-
ied in detail. Their present distribution cov-
ers the majority of mainland habitat types,
and they are considered common across this
range except for the arid eastern half of
Western Australia and adjoining parts of
South Australia and the Northern Territory
where they are thought to be naturally
sparse (Figure 2). Corbett (1995a) has sug-
gested that dingo numbers may have
increased greatly in some arid areas since
European settlement as a result of the pas-
toral industry, more watering points and the
introduction of rabbits (Section 2.8.4).
On a smaller scale, wild dogs favour some
habitats more than others. These preferences
appear to be related to habitat features such
as prey distribution, presence of cover or
other shelter and presence of water. In the
hot, semi-arid Fortescue River region of
Western Australia, for example, packs of din-
goes spend proportionately more time in
riverine areas than in other parts of their
range (Thomson 1992d). This is likely to be
associated with the presence of water, thicker
cover and greater prey abundance in the
riverine areas.
2.3 Diet and hunting strategies
2.3.1 Diet of wild dogs in Australia
The diet of wild dogs has been studied more
extensively than any other aspect of their
biology. Over the past 30 years or so, almost
13 000 stomach and faecal samples from six
major climatic regions have been analysed.
Of 177 prey species identified, most were
mammals (72.3% by occurrence, 71 species);
others were birds (18.8%, 53 species), vege-
tation (3.3%, mai