The dingo may be Australia’s most contentious animal. To some, the free-roaming canine is a beloved member of the nation’s unique fauna. To others, it is little more than a wild dog and an agricultural pest.
This ambivalence is enshrined in law. Federally, the dingo is considered a native species, like the kangaroo, koala, or any other animal present in Australia prior to the year 1400. But in most Australian states and territories with dingo populations, landowners are legally allowed (even obliged, in some places) to kill “wild dogs”—a group that includes dingoes, along with feral domestic dogs and their hybrids. Governments also bait and trap dingoes on public lands within some national parks.
As local governments throughout Australia coordinate efforts to rid sheep- and goat-farming regions of pack animals that can devastate local industries, some experts want the killing stopped. They argue that the dingo—one of the only large predators on the continent—fills a crucial ecological niche in a nation with the world’s highest rate of mammal extinction, safeguarding small mammals from predation by feral cats and foxes and preventing overgrazing of their habitat by kangaroos.
The future of the dingo could hinge on the question of whether it should be officially classified as a unique species or just another wild dog. As its own species, the dingo could be listed as threatened under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in the event its populations falter. If it’s considered a dog, it wouldn’t qualify. In either case, state governments could write exemptions into their own legislation.