30 July 2021

Rare encounter with a dingo in the Kosciuszko wilderness

| Edwina Mason
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Dingo in Kosciuszko National Park

Ian and Michelle Brown’s recent encounter with a dingo in Kosciuszko National Park allowed them to observe it for around 45 minutes. Photo: Snowy Brumby Photography Adventures with Michelle and Ian.

Alpine wilderness wanderers Ian and Michael Brown are seeking to have the stigma associated with dingoes tempered by their own experiences of sightings in Kosciuszko National Park, one just weeks ago.

The pair trek into the mountains weekly to document, through images, their encounters with wild horses, but occasionally they’ll come across something entirely different.

It was a flash of orange in early July that alerted them to the watchful gaze of a dingo in a thick scrubby part of the national park.

“He was chewing on a brumby that had recently died,” says Ian. “While that may sound a bit morbid, this is the way of the wild in the mountains.

“We don’t see the alpine dingoes all that often when we are hiking up the mountain – sometimes we don’t sight one for months – so it’s just being in the right place at the right time, and obviously the more you visit the mountains the more chance you will have of sighting one.”

This dingo afforded the couple the opportunity to observe it for about 45 minutes.

Dingo in Kosciuszko National Park

Getting up close to a dingo in the wild at Kosciuszko National Park. Photo: Snowy Brumby Photography Adventures with Michelle and Ian.

“We were beside ourselves, the fact this beautiful alpine dingo let us get close to him and allowed us to stay with him for such a long time,” says Ian. “Maybe he knows us from a previous encounter.”

This brush with Australia’s only native canine – a shy and apprehensive species – is rare. According to Association for Conservation of Australian Dingoes board member and Dingo Conservation Solutions NENSW president Zac Forster, it was likely permitted by the dingo due to an earlier exchange.

“You’ve got to get pretty lucky to see them,” he says. “Dingoes are easily frightened. They will take flight, but I looked back to another photo Ian and Michelle had taken a few months ago and it was the same one [dingo].

“The reason they got so close to this one is because the dingo knew them and knew from its first experience they were not a threat so allowed them to get a lot closer.”

Ian says of the dingoes they encounter in the national park, many have tan and white colouring with white socks, but some are brindle, black and tan, and others are sable – ginger with a black stripe along the spine – in colour.

According to a recent University of NSW study, coat colour doesn’t distinguish dingoes from dingo-dog hybrids (domestic and native dog crosses).

The university’s Centre for Ecosystem Science collated the results from more than 5000 DNA samples of wild canines across Australia, making it the largest and most comprehensive dingo data set to date.

UNSW conservation biologist and co-author of the study, Dr Kylie Cairns, says the researchers found pure dingoes that had a brindle, black and tan, patchy or sable coat colour.

“That’s showing dingoes are much more variable than we think, and seeing an animal with an odd coat colour doesn’t immediately mean it’s a hybrid,” she says.

Sign warning of wild dog/fox baiting in Kosciuszko National Park

Ian Brown says the blanket aerial wild dog/fox baiting across fire-affected Kosciuszko National Park is self-defeating. Photo: Snowy Brumby Photography Adventures with Michelle and Ian.

The research team also found almost all wild canines in Australia are genetically more than half dingo, with 99 per cent of those tested either pure dingo or dingo-dominant hybrids – a hybrid canine with more than 50 per cent dingo genes.

Of the remaining one per cent, roughly half were dog-dominant hybrids and the other half feral dogs.

The findings, says Dr Cairns, who is also a scientific advisor to the Australian Dingo Foundation, challenge the view that pure dingoes are virtually extinct in the wild, and calls to question the widespread use of the term ‘wild dog’.

She says there simply isn’t a wild dog problem in Australia, and that lethal measures to control populations are primarily targeting dingoes.

“Wild dogs just aren’t established in the wild,” says Dr Cairns. “There are rare times when a dog might go bush, but it isn’t contributing significantly to the dingo population.”

The researchers are planning to use updated genetic techniques to look at dingo ancestry across Australia to uncover the origin of some of the coat colours.

“We want to examine whether these coat colours are ancestral or came from dogs originally but have been present in the population for 100 to 200 years,” says Dr Cairns.

READ ALSO After the fires, 1080 baits pose new problem for animal sanctuary

In the meantime, Ian says the fact this dingo was surrounded by warnings of 1080 baits is concerning.

Following the bushfire season of 2019-2020, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service significantly increased the level of aerial baiting conducted on land it manages, primarily to reduce post-fire predation by foxes on native wildlife, but also to reduce predation by foxes and wild dogs on neighbouring livestock enterprises.

But Ian says this is self-defeating, given ecological research in Australia and worldwide during the past two decades has increasingly demonstrated the importance of conserving medium-to-large size predators for ecosystem health and the preservation of biodiversity.

Next week: How wolves and dingoes are saving landscapes. Have you heard of Yellowstone?

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Victoria Hearne4:29 pm 07 Jan 22

How long will it take NPWS to catch up with best practice flora/ fauna management?
Why do government departments keep ignoring the sound advice of experienced professionals n people like these mentioned here, to the detriment of our heritage?
It makes me sad n mad n I don’t know how to help!
All practical advice welcomed, with thanks

Cheryl Milloss7:36 am 15 Oct 21

Dingo baiting with 1080 is extremely cruel. This substance is banned throughout Europe. Only Ausralia & NZ still use this poison. Trapping is equally cruel. The dingo as our Apex predator should be protected by Law. It is very importantin keeping the ecosystem in balance. Many beef farmers allow dingoes and kangaroos to thrive and find tbey have better pasture and better quality stock just as the research predicts. Using Mareema dogs or donkeys also enables the sheep farmer to live & benefit from the modulating effect of dingoes with no wasted time or cost in shooting trapping or baiting. Legislation must be changed to protect our Native Apex predator.

Hazel Watson9:38 am 06 Aug 21

What beautiful images with the illuminating information about the Alpine dingoes. So little known about Australia’s wild dogs. I recollect the wild dogs in Africa are a protected species, elusive and beautiful too.

Dorothy Hope9:07 am 02 Aug 21

Dingos are a native apex predator in this country. They are an important part of the ecosystem and play a major role in controlling foxes, feral cats, kangaroos etc. Government agencies and other organisations are incorrectly referring to this species as wild dogs in order to dupe the community into thinking that these are domestic dogs gone wild. They use this as an excuse to wipe out the species.
It’s time to act to preserve the species, instead!!!

Please stop demonising dingos

Marie-Louise Sarjeant5:22 pm 30 Jul 21

Absolutely stunning photos . Dingoes are so important to the biodiversity of our environment. They are unique Canis dingo and should be valued.

The State LNP and its masters, like a certain interested loudmouth,in Cooma, with vested interests, want to save feral pest horses and kill native animals like dingoes.

Dog baiting practice should be abolished. It destroys eco diversity and resolved nothing.

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