Figure 1. (upper) Wild New Guinea dingo (West Papua, Indonesia), photo credit to New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation. (lower) Australian dingo, photo credit to K. Cairns
Dingo Working Group - The Dingo working group is an international organisation of experts on dingoes. The overall goal of the Dingo Working Group is to promote the study and conservation of dingoes in Australia and New Guinea, including a deeper understanding of their ecological and socio-cultural value, genetic relationships between sub-populations, and appropriate strategies to balance their conservation with other management objectives within their range.
The taxonomic name used for dingoes in the scientific literature continues to be debated, with Canis dingo, Canis lupus dingo, Canis hallstromi, Canis dingo hallstromi and Canis familiaris, C. familiaris (dingo), in current use (Crowther et al., 2014; Jackson et al., 2020; Koler-Matznick et al., 2004; Kreplins et al., 2019; Smith et al., 2019). Disagreement stems from uncertainty about the evolutionary history and domestication status of the lineage. Some regard the dingo is an ancient breed ultimately derived from early domestic dogs (Jackson et al., 2020; Jackson et al., 2019; Jackson et al., 2017) whilst others argue that dingoes did not originate from a domesticated lineage (Ballard & Wilson, 2019; Cairns, 2021; Crowther et al., 2014; Shipman, 2021; Smith et al., 2019). Whilst Australian and New Guinea dingoes were previously considered separate lineages, molecular evidence has confirmed their close relationship and collective distinctiveness from modern domestic dogs (Surbakti et al 2020).
It is the opinion of the IUCN Canid Specialist Group (CSG) that dingoes/NGSD/HWD are an evolutionarily significant unit of wild canid closely related to domestic dogs. The IUCN CSG expects that ongoing scientific research will resolve uncertainty about the status of dingoes/NGSD/HWD.
Dingoes, as Canis lupus dingo, were listed as Lower Risk/least concern by the IUCN SSC Red List from 1996-2004. From 2004-2020 improved information resulted in the dingo being reassessed as Vulnerable. Changes in the preferred taxonomic nomenclature for dingoes by the IUCN SSC Canids Specialist Group in 2020 resulted in dingoes being removed from the Red List changing their assessment to “Not Evaluated” (Alvares et al., 2019).
In Australia, habitat conversion (e.g., livestock production and cropping) and lethal control programs have expatriated dingoes in some regions, reducing their distribution by at least 15% since 1798 (Allen et al 2017, Corbett 2001, Allen and West 2013). Dingoes may also be threatened by dingo x dog hybridisation leading to genetic dilution and potentially the extinction of their unique genetic identity (Cairns et al., 2021; Stephens et al., 2015).
There is very little information about the range and density of New Guinea Dingoes, and wild individuals are rarely observed.
Geographic Range Information
Previous information suggested that dingoes could be found throughout southeast Asia (e.g. Thailand, Vietnam) because of the presence of phenotypically similar dogs in these places (Corbett, 2001), but we now know that dingoes are a different evolutionary lineage to the admixed free-ranging village dogs found in these areas (Cairns, 2021; Cairns et al., 2018; Shannon et al., 2015; Surbakti et al., 2020). Whilst the ancestor of dingoes may well have originated in Asia and there may have once been populations of dingoes and dingo-like canids in Asia, there is limited evidence that those populations have persisted to the present day.
Native: Australia; New Guinea.
The Australian dingo is distributed across roughly 85% of mainland Australia, and isolated populations are also found on K’gari (Fraser Island) (QLD), Melville Island (NT) and Bathurst Island (NT) off the coast of mainland Australia.
It is presumed that New Guinea Dingoes were originally distributed across New Guinea, but are now believed to be restricted to the highlands of New Guinea from 1,500m above sea level (asl) to 4,000m asl. There have been some reports of sightings in the Bismarck Archipelago and Bougainvillea that warrant further investigation.
Population trend: Data deficient.
Estimating the abundance of dingoes is difficult because of their large geographic range, the remoteness of the landscape and the lack of population density data across different habitats in Australia and New Guinea. In Australia, the density of dingoes has been observed to vary between 0.03 and 0.3 dingoes per km² according to habitat and prey availability (Fleming et al., 2001; Forsyth et al., 2019). Allen et al. (2017) roughly estimates that there may be 10,000-20,000 adult dingoes in the mainland of Australia. The absence or low density of dingoes in many regions across Australia may be due to persecution by humans in agricultural zones. In New Guinea the population abundance and density of dingoes is unknown.
Within Australia hybridisation and interbreeding with domestic dogs is considered a threat to dingoes. However, across most of Australia the dingo population is observed to be largely free from domestic dog ancestry (Cairns et al., 2023). In some parts of Australia, such as New South Wales and Queensland, the occurrence of domestic dog ancestry in the dingo population is higher. Lethal control programs have been observed to exacerbate hybridisation between some wild canids (Bohling, 2016; Bohling & Waits, 2015). The territoriality, strongly seasonal breeding and bi-parental care practices of dingoes may explain the apparent reproductive isolation between dingoes and domestic dogs, in the absence of disrupted social structures (Lord et al. 2013). Ongoing genetic monitoring is needed to evaluate the threat dingo-dog hybridisation and lethal control has on dingoes in Australia, at national and regional scales.
No census is available for the New Guinea dingo population. Sightings by locals occur infrequently (Rose Singadan, pers. comm.), with highlanders reporting that sightings are declining. New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation (NGHWDF) expeditions to the Puncak Jaya research station documented the presence of a healthy breeding population, with 15 individuals present in 2016, 11 individuals in 2018, and 36 individuals in 2022 (James McIntyre, pers. comm.). In the 40 years preceding 2016, there were only 3-4 confirmed scientific sightings (Newsome 1971, Brisbin et al. 1994, Bino 1996, Koler-Matznick et al. 2000). Given the very limited environment available, a census needs to be prioritized in the interest of accurately assessing protection status.
Habitat and Ecology Information
Dingoes occupy a wide range of habitats across Australia and New Guinea. In Australia dingoes occupy forested snow-clad peaks in temperate eastern Australia, arid hot deserts in central Australia, and tropical wetlands and forests of northern Australia (Corbett 1995). The absence of dingoes in some habitats of Australia is due to persecution by humans (Fleming et al. 2001). Dingoes are absent from the island state of Tasmania (which separated from the mainland around 12,000 years ago), however are present on many small islands.
In Australia, the ecology of dingoes is well-described with them occupying the position of apex terrestrial predator (Glen et al., 2007; Johnson et al., 2007; Letnic et al., 2012; Newsome et al., 2015). As an apex predator, dingoes can play a role in suppressing the abundance of larger herbivores like kangaroos and feral goats, indirectly benefiting vegetation and smaller animal species (Allen 2015; Allen et al. 2021). Dingoes also interact negatively with mesopredators.
In New Guinea, dingoes largely occupy alpine moorlands and high-altitude forests above 2,500 m asl of the central highlands (Troughton 1957, Newsome 1971). Dingoes are most commonly reported between 1500 to 3000 m asl but have been observed at altitudes up to 4300 m asl (McIntyre, 2019). There is limited evidence of dingoes persisting in the lowlands or islands of New Guinea, however males may be attracted to village dog bitches in estrus. Whilst the dingo is likely to function as the apex terrestrial predator in the Central Cordillera mountains of New Guinea, there is incomplete information about ecosystem structure in the highlands of New Guinea.
Figure 2. Map of the island of New Guinea showing the hypothetical range of NGD in the highland mountain ranges. Image credit to Janice Koler-Matznik (USA).
In Australia, dingo conservation is difficult because of conflicting or inconsistent legislation across different states and territories, and at state versus federal levels. In many jurisdictions of Australia, dingoes (often called “wild dogs” alongside feral and domestic dogs) are a declared pest or biosecurity risk because of their real or perceived impacts on livestock, threatened fauna, and in some cases humans. Whilst dingoes are protected in National Parks and wildlife reserves in some Australian jurisdictions, lethal management including aerial poison-baiting is carried out in some of these reserves in an effort to minimise livestock losses for nearby livestock producers. There are active government and industry funded baiting, trapping and bounty programs across parts of Australia targeting dingoes on both private and public lands.
The most serious threats facing the dingo in some parts of Australia are persecution by humans, outbreeding with modern domestic dogs (hybridisation) and habitat fragmentation. Intensive lethal control has a suppressive impact on local dingo populations and may lead to local expatriation and/or genetic bottlenecking (see Kumar et al. 2023; Leon-Apodaca et al. 2023). Historical lethal control has driven some local dingo populations (ie central Victoria) to extinction (Parks Victoria 2019). Whilst interbreeding between modern domestic dogs and dingoes and subsequent genetic dilution has been documented as a threat to dingo populations (Wilton 2001; Elledge et al. 2015; Cairns et al., 2021; Cairns et al., 2019; Stephens et al., 2015), recent genomic studies indicate that dingo x dog hybridsation is uncommon (Cairns et al. 2023). Studies using updated genetic technologies found that wild dingoes retain predominately dingo ancestry, with dingo x dog hybridisation primarily a concern in rural or semi-rural regions of New South Wales and Queensland with high densities of domestic dogs and intensive or widespread lethal control programs (Cairns et al. 2023). Updated genomic surveys of dingoes are urgently needed. There is concern from some scientists that lethal control increases the risk of dingo x dog interbreeding (Crowther et al., 2020; Cairns et al., 2021; Cairns et al. 2023 but see Stephens et al. 2023). Habitat fragmentation due to physical barriers like cluster fences or intensive baiting programs may disrupt geneflow between dingo populations leading to genetic bottlenecks or inbreeding. Further research and genetic monitoring are needed to fill knowledge gaps concerning the impact of these threats on dingoes at local, regional, and national scales in Australia.
The lack of knowledge concerning the population size, range and the presence of hybridisation with local village dogs makes it difficult to assess threats to the conservation of dingoes in New Guinea (Surbakti et al. 2020). Importantly, in New Guinea dingoes are not considered a threat to local primary producers, so are not a target of lethal management. The most pressing threat to New Guinea dingoes may be human encroachment into their habitat through logging, mining operations and infrastructure building, which increases potential for contact with domestic dogs resulting in a subsequent threat from the possibility of introgression or disease transmission to a naïve population (rabies is endemic on New Guinea). In the past dingoes were perceived as an enviable trophy, killed by only the most skilled of hunters, but this has become uncommon in modern times. Most other villagers revere and protect dingoes, often considering them deceased family members.
Conservation Actions Information
Few proactive conservation measures have been undertaken in Australia other than the Victorian State Government listing dingoes as a threatened species in 2008 (DEPI, 2013) and protection measures in place on K’gari in Queensland (Behrendorff, 2021). The efforts of dingo preservation and conservation societies in Australia have been to maintain a captive insurance population of DNA tested dingoes, contribute to education of the public about the value of dingoes, and advocate for their protection at all levels of government.
Protected areas for dingoes do occur in Australia (mostly outside of the sheep and goat grazing regions of southern and eastern Australia), however their effectiveness may be limited. Dingoes are routinely killed on public land using baiting, trapping and shooting to manage their impact on nearby livestock producers (Ballard et al., 2020).
There are few active conservation measures for wild dingoes in New Guinea. Several protected areas have been gazetted due to the presence of wild dingoes and it is hoped that the Department of Environment and Conservation will re-initiate measures to protect New Guinea singing dingoes.
Occurrence in captivity
Dingoes are kept in many Australian and International zoos, private facilities and as companion animals where permitted. A majority of the captive dingo population has been DNA tested to assess the ancestry of animals used in captive breeding programs.
Captive New Guinea dingo populations have been maintained with a studbook kept by the New Guinea Singing Dog Conservation Society. The majority of the population resides in North America, often in private homes as pets. Whilst it is unknown what the population size of captive New Guinea dingoes is, most are highly inbred, having originated from a base population of a few individuals exported from New Guinea in the 1950s and 1970s. In New Guinea, reports of New Guinea dingoes being kept in captivity are rare, however, there are occasional reports of hybrids between male New Guinea dingoes and female village dogs.
Gaps in knowledge
1) Information on the genetic relationships between Australian dingoes, New Guinea dingoes and free-breeding dogs in south-east Asia.
2) Information on geographic boundaries of any evolutionarily significant dingo populations and identification of regional hotspots where dingo populations have either persisted with limited domestic dog introgression or are heavily threatened by dingo x dog hybridisation.
3) Information on the population size and ecological role of dingoes in New Guinea.
4) Information on non-numerical effects of lethal control on populations of dingoes and interacting fauna, including behaviour, dispersal, genetic diversity and dingo x dog hybridisation.
5) Information about the interactions between dingoes and mesopredators (such as foxes, cats or quolls) in Australia and New Guinea.
6) Broadening the knowledge base about available dingo control tools, encouraging the use of non-lethal tools where appropriate.
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