Does Extinction Loom for Australia’s Wild Dingoes?

John Roach, National Geographic News, Dec. 10

Wild populations of Australian dingoes may go extinct within 50 years unless steps are taken to prevent crossbreeding with domestic dogs, scientists and conservationists say.

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“The process is continual and insidious,” Wilton said. “It is like dropping some ink into a bucket of clean water: It will spread until all you have is murky water.”

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Dingo Baiting

Because they prey on calves and sheep, dingoes and wild dogs are viewed as a threat to livestock. To protect the livestock, Australian government agencies permit farmers to kill the dogs with poisons and traps.

But according to Oakman, feral cats and foxes, which were introduced to Australia by European settlers, are the true nuisance species for livestock farmers and native fauna.

Oakman also raises sheep, and during lambing season, he walks his dingoes around the perimeter of his sheep enclosures to mark the property with the dingoes’ scent. Foxes avoid these marked areas. “All the neighbors have a major fox problem, and I don’t,” he said.

Booming, uncontrolled populations of the cats and foxes and are also wreaking havoc on Australia’s native animals as a whole, Oakman said. The invasive species kill birds, small marsupials, amphibians, lizards, and snakes. Healthy populations of pure wild dingoes, he said, would keep the cats and foxes in check.

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