Does Extinction Loom for Australia's Wild Dingoes?

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"The dingo over here isn't recognized as a top-order predator, and it should be … . Wherever the dingo is, there is plenty of native fauna and no cats or foxes," he said.

When the dingoes are persecuted, however, it disrupts the social structure of dingo packs and leads to crossbreeding.

Many of the wild domestic dogs in Australia are mixed European domestics and so-called pig dogs, which are bred to hunt wild boars. Pig dogs that fail to perform are often abandoned in the outback by their owners, Oakman said. And crossbreeds between dingoes and pig dogs can be dangerous.

The average wild dingo weighs about 33 pounds (15 kilograms). In recent months, wildlife officials have shot and killed wild crossbreeds weighing more than 150 pounds (70 kilograms), Oakman said.

Unlike pure dingoes, which, like wolves, live in packs ruled by an alpha male and female, wild packs of crossbreeds are uncontrolled. They threaten livestock and native fauna and have even reportedly harassed fishermen, Oakman said.

Dingo Conservation

Wilton, the University of New South Wales geneticist, said few options exist to protect wild dingoes. "All we can do is identify populations with conservation value—no funding to do that—and then isolate the population," he said.

Only Fraser Island is naturally isolated, Wilton noted, adding that any other isolation effort would require fencing, which is currently cost prohibitive.

Oakman, however, sees hope in the Wilderness Society's WildCountry project. The conservation nonprofit recently acquired vast tracts of remote, fenced-in land from Earth Sanctuaries, Ltd, a struggling, publicly traded company dedicated to conservation. The effort aims to pack fenced-in Australian lands with endangered species and pay for their conservation with eco-tourism dollars.

While thousands of acres have been fenced in, much of the land is idle and feral cats and foxes have breached fence lines.

"We are looking at reintroducing the dingo into these areas, which are safe areas for the dingo to prove, once and for all, what he's worth," Oakman said.

If the dingoes behave according to Oakman's prediction, the wild canines will run off non-native cats and foxes, allowing the lands to revert back to an ecological balance not seen since before European settlement.

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