Photo Credit: Timmy Toucan via Compfight cc
“Dingo ate my baby” is probably the most hackneyed line used in popular culture to spoof Australia and Aussies. It has the honours of being recycled in 3 of the biggest shows of the last 20 years: Seinfeld, The Simpsons and Family Guy. That’s a pretty impressive, inter-generational reverberation. Woe unto Lindy Chamberlain who has been condemned to forever wear that tag and bear the brunt of tacky pub jokes, even though, ironically, she never in fact said it. Yet how many would know that as an apex predator, the dingo’s appetite has a preference for a diet other than your unsuspecting tot?

The dingo is Australia’s most well known canine. An icon in modern popular lore (see above), it also has a central place in Aboriginal mythology and ceremonial practices. Its depiction in ancestral, weather-beaten lands in the form of rock carvings and paintings provide us with the some of the earliest and most gripping examples of art and visual representation in human history.

It is classified as a wild, free-ranging dog, although its domestication and inter-breeding with other domestic dogs is common. The latter is highly controversial on account of scientists’ opinion that it contributes to the dingo’s genetic pollution, i.e. it loses the special adaptations that have helped it survive.

The dingo’s ancestry is disputed. The most plausible narrative traces its genealogy to a semi-domesticated dog in South East Asia, which resettled in the wild upon introduction to Australia. This has meant that it is generally considered to be a sub-species of the grey wolf. It makes its residence in disparate habitats all across Australia, from the arid, red Desert-heart to tropical wetlands in the north and snow-capped mountains in the East. They are known to reside near essential water supplies, squatting in abandoned rabbit holes or hollow logs.

Its other claim to fame is that it is the largest terrestrial predator in Australia. As an apex predator, it has the much-coveted good fortune of being at the top of the food chain, and the twin blessing of not being predated by another species. Of course this might be contested given the wide-spread encroachment of live-stock farming, which sees it as a pest and threat to its produce. Nevertheless, graziers do seem to derive a kind of mutual benefit from the dingo’s predation of little nuisances such as rabbits and rats.

Although its residence in many different habitats across the country suggests a strong and successful adaptation, the dingo has nevertheless been classified as vulnerable to extinction on account of the aforementioned genetic pollution, further sign that the human mastery of the biosphere is increasingly affecting natural selection, to the point where even our country’s icons are not guaranteed safety. Nevertheless, we may derive a vague kind of hope from the millennia-old inscriptions that the characteristic barking and howling of this pack animal will allow it to survive well into the future.