‘Wild dogs’ in controversial photo taken in outback Queensland identified as ‘pure’ dingoes

ByDavid M. Conte

Apr 3, 2022

It was a striking image, and for some, uncomfortable.

Golden ‘wild dogs’ cling to trees by the side of a tourist route in outback Queensland.

DNA tests revealed that these so-called wild dogs were in fact “pure” dingoes.

“They were like 99.9%, which is the highest you can get from the DNA tests we do,” genetics researcher Kylie Cairns said.

“It confirmed what we already knew from previous work in and around West Queensland, which is that the dingoes in this area are pure dingoes.

“We have already tested hundreds of samples from Queensland, and the vast majority of the animals are tested as pure dingoes, particularly if you are in remote or more central Queensland.”

Dr Cairns, from the University of New South Wales, says hybridization between native dingoes and wild dogs is far less common than previously thought.

Kylie Cairns is a UNSW geneticist specializing in dingoes.(ABC News: Michael Slezak)

A dingo by another name?

“Mostly I think the community, including cattle ranchers, would be unaware that when you say wild dogs, you mean dingoes,” Dr Cairns said.

“I think the term wild dog is confusing to a lot of people because they don’t realize that term includes dingoes. They think wild dogs and dingoes are different things.

A golden dingo looking towards the camera with its tongue sticking out, surrounded by shrubs and grasses.
Dr Cairns says the overwhelming majority of West Queensland wild dogs are pure dingoes.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

“A lot of people believe because there’s been this myth that’s been around for decades that there are no pure dingoes in the wild anymore…we know that’s not true… .there is very, very little hybridization.”

But national wild dog management co-ordinator at the Center for Invasive Species Solutions, Greg Mifsud, said previous research had shown there were many hybrids in outback Queensland.

“It’s very difficult to know unless you go and test the DNA of each one of them,” Mifsud said.

“In previous work done in 2011, out of 357 samples analyzed, only 20% of them could be considered dingo, and the majority of them were crosses.

“The difficulty of giving something a unique name based on what they are and where you are is very difficult with these animals because they interbreed very easily with domestic dogs.”

Mr Mifsud said it would have been very easy for one of the pure dingoes hanging from the tree to mate with a domestic dog.

“If one of these female dogs mates with someone’s kelpie, they automatically interbreed,” he said.

‘It’s useless’

Mr Misfud disagreed with claims that breeders were unaware they were dealing with pure dingoes.

Although he discouraged hanging dead animals from trees, he said native dingoes, hybrids and feral dogs all needed to be managed.

Greg Misfud looks very serious as he talks to three men and a woman.
Greg Misfud says dog attacks are devastating grazing properties. (Provided: Invasive Species Solutions Center)

“From a management point of view, it is futile because we will manage the impacts of dogs, whether they are dingoes, crossbreeds or feral dogs, whatever you call them, we manage for their impact,” said said Mr. Misfud.

Wool farmer Andrew Martin said attacks on livestock by wild dogs, including purebred dingoes, could have devastating effects on herders.

“The original reason for calling them wild dogs was purely politically correct.

“About 30 years ago people had a fierce objection to things being called dingos and we wanted to advocate for the destruction of some of them, so we called them wild dogs and everyone settled in.”

Need for a “nuanced approach”

West-Central Queensland rancher Angus Emmott, who snapped the image of dingoes hanging from the tree last year, thinks the semantics are important.

Angus Emmott drives a ute with a brown farm dog in his lap.
Angus Emmott is known for letting the dingoes thrive at Noonbah Station.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

“By calling them wild dogs, it allows us on the ground to bait the whole landscape and justify it, but they’re not wild dogs,” Mr Emmott said.

“We have to accept number one that they are dingoes, an Australian native animal, and number two to see how we are going to deal with them.

“We need to sit down with the best evidence and representatives from agriculture and we need to come up with a better and more nuanced approach.”