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Blue-tongue
A true-blue battler

Dingo
Unfairly judged?

Koala control
What to do about the "koala plague" on Kangaroo Island

The Kangaroo industry
Should we eat skippy?

Feral cat
Apex predator in Australia. Confined to urban areas in America.

Tasmanian Devil
The solution to mainland extinctions?

Tasmanian Tiger
A sad tale

Rabbits
Perhaps not so adapted to Australia

Wombat
Keg of muscle


 

 

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Thylacine and dingo
Did the dingo do it?

Unfairly judged?

"On the evidence, juries have always convicted the dingo, but it is a largely circumstantial case," Dr Stephen Wroe

The demise of Tasmanian devils and thylacine from mainland Australia loosely correlates with the arrival of dingos between three and 10,000 years ago. This correlation has generally been explained as resulting from the native predators being unable to compete with the recent arrival. For example, in 1923, Albert Le Souef, curator of Taronga Park Zoo, wrote:

"when animals of this class (marsupials) suddenly find themselves placed in competition with such advanced forms as the Fox, the Cat, and the Rabbit - types far ahead of them on the evolutionary scale - it is ...inevitable that they should go down before the invader."

The marsupials-are-defective explanation is generally used to support warden-like approaches to conversation that rely on locking up the marsupials in reserves or zoos.

The main flaw in the argument is evidence showing devils eradicating foxes in Tasmania, decreasing cat populations and being unaffected by dogs. This could suggest that rather than being eliminated by dingos, the devil and thylacine were eliminated by other means which allowed the dingo to fill a void in the ecosystem that it couldn’t do previously.  Prior to this time, it was the dingo that could not compete with the marsupial predators. It may have been introduced, or made it across itself, countless times over the last 30,000 years but died out.

Comparison of the attributes of the dingo and marsupial predators does indicate that the locals had some definite advantages if their paths ever crossed. One of these was bite pressure. A 10kg devil can exert a bite pressure as powerful as a dog twice a dingo’s size. Furthermore, a devil is low to the ground like a bull terrier, which makes it a shape more suited to defeating a dingo in a fight than the other way around.

The thylacine would also have been a formidable foe for a dingo. It was longer, taller, and also had a far more powerful bite. Some colonial reports of their encounters with dogs indicate that they killed them quickly.

Of course, there is more to surviving in the Australian bush than being able to win a fight. Some arguments propose that the dingo was a superior hunter and deprived the devil and thylacine of their prey. The main problem with this explanation is that the dingo is more of a scavenger than a hunter because kangaroos are very difficult prey to catch. As a scavenger, it would need to have one-on-one fights with devils and thylacines. Admittedly, dingos are more social animals than both the thylacine and devil so they had the potential for social co-operation that the others lacked. That said, dingos in Australia are largely solitary, probably because Kangaroos run off in different directions when scared and a single kangaroo (if caught) is too small to sustain a pack of Dingos. As stated by Wroe 2003:

"Second, Corbett’s (1995) argument that dingoes were capable of excluding thylacines from resources through cooperative behaviour is weakened by Paddle’s (2000) conclusion that thylacines also hunted cooperatively. In any case, while it can form large packs, the dingo is often solitary or hunts in pairs (Marsack and Campbell, 1990; Thompson, 1992)."

So if the dingo didn’t kill off the devil and thylacine on the mainland, what did?

Perhaps the answer is the same things that killed off other large predators like the marsupial lion and megalania. Specifically, disease or human action.  

The only plausible explanation for the dingo eliminating the devil and thylacine was that it did so in partnership with humans. The dingos provided human hunters with the ability to follow animal scents. It may have been possible that humans used the dingos to follow the scents of thylacines and devils and subsequently killed and ate them. In return, the dingo received food scraps. Puppies were even breast bred by humans.

Aboriginal woman breast feeding two Dingo pups

Dingos had a symbiotic relationship with humans. So close was the relationship that it was no uncommon for women to breast feed dingo pups.

Deciding whether the dingo eliminated the devil and thylacine is very significant in debate about whether the devil should be re-introduced to the mainland. Some people are of a view that the devil's only future resides in a cage because wild dogs would naturally out compete it as the dingo did previously. Other people are of the view that not only would the devil not be out competed, but that it would out compete foxes, cats and perhaps even dingos in a way that would make it easier for native prey to rebound.

Ironically, the dingo itself is also being held up as a possible solution to Australia’s environmental woes. Professor Chris Johnson, from James Cook University, has argued in favour of reintroducing dingos (along with quolls and the devils) to the various mainland ecosystems that humans have eradicated them from. Professor Johnson has stressed that native predator communities need to be rebuilt as they have the ability to remain in balance with native prey. As native predators replace the feral predators, or reduce their numbers, native prey is able to rebound.

Professor Johnson has some interesting research backing up his proposal. He has found that in places where Dingoes are rare or absent, and Foxes and Cats are abundant, 50 per cent of ground-living mammals have vanished. Where Dingoes remain abundant, the rate of local disappearance is 10 per cent or less.

Did Dingo kill off the Marsupials?

 

 

Dingo may save Australian wildlife
Wednesday, 11 July 2007

by Sarah Wood

 

 
Dingo
Thylacine
Height 50cm 58 cm
Length 117-124 cm 180 cm
Weight 10-20kg 15-30 kg
Reproduction
  • 4-5 puppies
  • Once a year
  • Gestation- 63 days
  • 2-4 puppies
  • Continous breeding
  • Puppies in pouch for three months
Hunting behaviour Largely solitary but sometimes hunts in small groups Largely solitary but might have hunted in pairs
Prey Carrion, lizards, insects, seeds small mammals Meat specialist - Kangaroos, small marsupials, perhaps Dingos and Devils
Relationship with humans
  • Semi-domesticated
  • Symbiotic
  • Hunting partner
  • Companion
  • Wild
  • Pest
  • Competitor for food
  • Wild
  • Competitor for food
  • Pest

 

 

 

Environmental Issues

Environmental problems
The cultural basis of defining environmental problems

Indigenous environmentalism
Differences between Indigenous and non-indigenous land management

Sustainability
The dark side of sustainable environmental policies

Native pets
Why no pet wombats?

Bush fire prevention
To go native or exotic?