Doggone It!

06.12.12

Pets or Predators? 10 Things About Australia’s Famous Dog, the Dingo

With compelling evidence, an Australian coroner officially ruled that Azaria Chamberlin was killed by a dingo—not her mother, as was suspected when the infant died in 1980. In the wake of this news, 10 tidbits on the dogs who roam the outback.

In 1982 Lindy Chamberlain was sentenced to life in prison for murdering her 2-month-old baby, Azaria. Her husband, Michael Chamberlin, was given a suspended sentence as an accessory after the fact. Nearly 30 years later, a coroner in Australia’s Northern Territory has vindicated the couple, deeming the death of Azaria the result of a dingo attack that occurred on a family camping trip in 1980.  Although the couple was exonerated in 1987, the ruling comes as a legal and moral relief for them—Azaria’s death certificate was changed to note the dingo attack. Although the story received much media hype and was even adapted into a film, A Cry in the Dark, starring Meryl Streep, the dingo still remains a relatively mysterious creature to many.  So who exactly are these dogs native to the Australian outback?  And just how likely are they to eat your baby? The Daily Beast reveals 10 things you didn’t know about dingos.

Are Dingoes Legal pets?

Although dingoes are rarely kept as companion pets, it is legal in the states of New South Wales and Western Australia keep a pet dingo without a permit.  Permits are required in the states of Victoria and the Northern Territory and are illegal to be kept as pets in the states of Tasmania, Queensland, and South Australia. Dingoes can be kept as pets if they are taken from a litter no older than six weeks of age and then aggressively trained. Unfortunately for city dwellers looking to take in a dingo, these dogs cannot be cooped up in an apartment and require a large amount of space for roaming.

Where Did the Dingo Come From?

Primitive man brought the dingo to Australia around 15,000 years ago.  At the time, the dingo was semi-domesticated and is believed to be the common ancestor of all breeds today. Native Australians originally kept dingoes as an emergency food supply source. As time progressed, the dingoes made their way back into the wild and their population flourished when Europeans on the island began domesticating sheep and rabbits.

How Do Dingoes hunt?

Dingoes can hunt either alone or in packs. They tend to prey on small animals such as rabbits, birds, lizards, and rodents, but they have also been known to feed on plants and fruits. Dingoes are also known to be great tree climbers.

Mating Habits

Dingoes choose a mate for life. When a dingo’s partner dies, it is not uncommon for the living mate to “mourn itself to death.”  Dingoes breed once a year and a litter generally consists of five pups. Most packs have an alpha female that will try to kill the pups of other females.

Are Dingoes A Threat to Humans?

Unless you’re a farmer, dingoes don’t generally pose a threat to humans.  Dingoes have evolved to develop a “flight over fight” temperament, and generally shy away from humans. Dingoes rarely show aggression toward or attack humans or creatures larger than themselves.

Where Do They Live?

Dingoes are unique to Australia and can be found in the outback. Dingoes can flourish in deserts, grasslands, and forests. Dingoes make their homes in hollowed out logs, dens, or rabbit holes.

The Social Dingo

Dingoes tend to spend the majority of their time alone; however they congregate in packs during mating season. Dingo packs are highly territorial and an intruding dingo will likely be killed. Packs can range from three to 12 members.

When Dingoes Attack

Although it is rare, dingo attacks on humans have been known to occur. Dingo attacks are generally the result of how a human acts toward them. A dingo will more likely cower in the presence of an aggressive human; if a dingo perceives fear from a human, they are more likely to attack. A dingo that has grown accustomed to feasting on human leftovers may be more likely to show aggressive behavior to humans if they cannot find any food in the wild. Female dingoes are also known to display aggressive behavior towards humans when their pups are born.

Have Other Dingo Attacks Occurred?

In April 2001, 9-year-old Clinton Gage was killed by two dingoes in Fraser Island, a common location for attacks because of the close proximity between dingoes and humans. Clinton and his 7-year-old brother were walking near a camping ground when Clinton tripped, startling two dingoes that immediately attacked the boys. Clinton’s brother sustained only a bite, but by the time their father had arrived on the scene, Clinton had already been killed.  Many people demanded that the dingoes be removed from the island, or killed. Although few dingoes were actually killed, park rangers began erecting fences to keep the dogs away from the camping grounds.

In 2004 a couple from Brisbane were on vacation with their children, Georgina, 5, and Scarlett, 14 weeks. While in the bathroom, Belinda, their mother, heard piercing screams from the girls’ bedroom. A dingo had made its way into the bedroom.  Georgina stepped in between the dingo and her baby sister just before their mother was able to scare the dingo away. Rangers caught the dingo and put it down with lethal injection.

Random Facts, Dingo Style

Unlike most canines, dingoes are capable of rotating their wrists. This means sneaky dingoes have the ability to open doors with their paws. Campers in the outback take note and remember to lock your doors!

Although it is generally not recommended to keep a dingo as a pet, a dingo in captivity can increase the animal's life expectancy about 10 years. Dingoes in the wild tend to live for six years, while dingoes kept as pets can live for up to 15 years.

No one can forget Meryl Streep famously proclaiming, “A dingo ate my baby!” in the film, A Cry in the Dark, but the movie—which was estimated to have cost $15 million—only grossed about $7 million in the U.S.