The Australian dingo—a wolf in dog’s clothing
How the dingo confirms Genesis
Photo by Gary Bell
Here’s an animal that sure could use an ‘image make-over’ and public relations campaign.
For many years, the dingo was best known as the wild dog of Australia—the largest carnivore on the Australian mainland—and for being the scourge of the sheep industry. A single dingo can maul up to 50 sheep in one night, killing far more than it needs for food.1 (See box ‘Dingoes and sheep don’t mix’)
No wonder many pastoralists would often mutter, ‘The only good dingo is a dead dingo.’
Then, as if the dingo’s reputation was not already bad enough, in 1980, a baby named Azaria Chamberlain disappeared from a tent at Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia’s Northern Territory, amid cries that a wild dingo had taken the infant. (This was famously portrayed in the 1988 movie A Cry In the Dark, a.k.a. Evil Angels, starring Meryl Streep and Sam Neill). Then, in 2001, the dingo again made headlines when a nine-year-old boy was tragically attacked and killed by two dingoes on Queensland’s Fraser Island. His seven-year-old brother was also attacked, but survived.2,3 (See box ‘Would you trust a dingo?’.)
Yet, when European settlers first arrived in Australia,4 they found that many of these ‘wild dogs’ were not truly ‘wild’, but instead lived, ate and hunted with their human keepers. Aboriginal people highly prized the dingo, also known as the ‘warrigal’, as a domestic animal. Dingoes were bed warmers, camp cleaners, hunting companions and guard dogs.5
Originally wild or domestic?
The dingo is unmistakably canine—as was evident to the early European settlers, who eagerly crossed their imported herding dogs with the dingo in order to obtain breeds better adapted to the harsh Australian climate. The Australian cattle dog—a.k.a. the Queensland (blue) heeler—and the Australian kelpie are recognized dingo hybrid breeds.6 Like all other canines (jackals, coyotes, and all domestic dogs), the dingo is closely related to the wolf—DNA studies point to all dogs being descended from some wolf-like ancestor.7–9
But are dingoes domestic dogs gone wild, or wild animals of which, like wolves, some were domesticated? The dingo’s close resemblance to domestic dogs in Asia, its association with Aboriginal people and the fact that it was the only large placental mammal (except humans) on the continent led many to say its ancestors were domestic dogs. But others disagreed—hence the lack of agreement on a scientific name for the animal. For years the dingo was categorized as a subspecies of the domestic dog: Canis familiaris dingo. But in 1982, some taxonomists recommended it instead be classified as a subspecies of the wolf: Canis lupus dingo.10 Others decreed it a species in its own right: Canis dingo.11
Photo by Gary Bell
However, genetics seems to have resolved the debate, with a convincing demonstration that dingoes are descended from only a few domestic dogs introduced to Australia from South-east Asia, ‘as few as a single pregnant female’, and only turning feral later.12-14
But when? And who brought the dingo to Australia?
Here’s where it gets hazy. According to evolutionary ‘dating’, the dingo would have arrived some time between 3,500 and 12,000 years ago. This is because evolutionists date the oldest dingo fossil to about 3,500 years ago—and dingoes never reached Tasmania, which is supposed to have become separated from the Australian mainland 12,000 years ago.
So, given the widespread view that Aboriginal people have been in Australia for at least 40,000 years,15 the dingo could not have arrived with them.16 Therefore, the researchers conclude that the first dingo(es) must instead have been brought from the islands of South-east Asia by people of the Austronesian culture.17 Later, Aboriginal people adopted the dingo as a companion animal.
The biblical timeframe
However, God has told us in the Bible that all people (including ‘Aborigines’) are descended from Adam and Eve. Nothing in creation existed until Creation Week, about 6,000 years ago. So then, how should Bible-believing Christians make sense of the dingo story?
A key event is the Flood (Genesis 6–9), around 4,500 years ago. Australia’s human and fauna population all arrived after that time. And when was Tasmania isolated from mainland Australia by rising sea levels? Most creationist researchers believe that the Ice Age (generated by warm seas and cold land masses in the aftermath of the Flood) ended roughly 3,800 years ago.18 That’s when water from melting ice poured into the oceans, inundating the ‘land bridges’ which had allowed animals such as the kangaroo to spread out beyond Asia all the way to Tasmania.
With Tasmania isolated from mainland Australia, and the mainland itself cut off from Asia, the scene was set for the arrival of people by boat, raft or canoe.
- Both male and female dingoes take part in raising their pups (litters average five). When the youngsters are 14 days old, the mother regurgitates food for them. By the time they are three weeks old, they will leave the den for short periods and are able to eat rabbit.
- A purebred dingo stands about 60 cm high and weighs about 15 kg—making it slightly smaller than a German shepherd. Although their coats are mainly sandy-yellow, they can also be black and tan in colour, depending on their habitat (golden yellow dingoes are found in sandy areas, while the darker ones are found in forests).
- The Australian Government was so concerned that dingoes might crossbreed with German shepherds that it banned the importation of that breed from 1920 until 1970.
- In the wild, dingoes often hunt for food alone, although they can hunt together with others when seeking large prey (e.g. kangaroos).
- They are different from most dogs in that they don’t bark, only howl; breed only once a year; and have no dew claws1 on their hind legs.
- In dogs, the ‘dew claw’ is the ‘toe’ hanging loosely attached to the skin, on the rear of the leg. (While the other toes touch the ground, the dew claw merely ‘brushes the dew’ from long grass.)
Dingoes were then brought by either the first or subsequent waves of human immigrants. Tribal stories of the Larrakia people of the Northern Territory speak of their ancestors arriving by canoe and of bringing their canine companion with them.
Dingoes are represented in rock-art sites,19 and feature prominently in Aboriginal stories—e.g. the Pleiades constellation (or Seven Sisters) is depicted as a flock of kangaroos being chased by Orion’s two dingoes.1
The big picture
What we know about the dingo today is just what we would expect if the Bible is true. We see:
- That ‘a single pregnant female’ could have populated an entire continent—a nice demonstration that from a limited number of animals, a healthy population can be sustained, as per Genesis 8:17. So, next time you hear someone claim that the world’s land animals and birds couldn’t possibly have come from male/female pairs taken aboard the Ark, tell them about the Australian dingo!
- That the ready interbreeding of dingoes with other dogs (which continues apace today),20 along with the uncertainty in assigning species names, points to the creation by God of a single original dog ‘kind’ (Genesis 1:24–25). Rapid ‘speciation’ is not evolution, but just what we would expect from the biblical account.21
- That a ‘wild’ animal can be tamed by man (see James 3:7), reflecting the original created order—man to ‘rule over’ the animals (Genesis 1: 28).22
- That the movement of dingoes and humans to this continent fits with the expected pattern of post-Flood dispersion from the Ark during the last 4,500 years. Interestingly, lice that live on kangaroos have also been found on Indonesian dogs. Some researchers suggest, therefore, that the Australian dingo must have been taken back to Indonesia (carrying the kangaroo lice north from Australia).12 But this evidence could also be interpreted to mean that kangaroos once lived in Indonesia (en route to Australia), later becoming locally extinct as the large carnivores (e.g. Asian tigers) arrived there after the end of the Ice Age, when the land bridge to Australia was severed.
- That an animal classed as a ‘carnivore’ can actually survive without meat (see box ‘Dingoes and sheep don’t mix’)—echoes of the way they were originally created … vegetarian (Genesis 1:30)! The presence of death, bloodshed and carnivory in today’s world is a consequence of the Fall (Genesis 3; Romans 8:19–22).
So, when one considers the dingo in the light of the Bible’s account of history, all begins to make sense. And no wonder—for the Bible’s claims are true, so the evidence, correctly interpreted, will inevitably fit with a true account of history.
Would you trust a dingo?
When Lindy Chamberlain, the wife of a pastor, told authorities in 1980 that a dingo had taken her baby Azaria from their tent at Ayers Rock (Uluru) in central Australia, the tragedy quickly became the focus of national attention.
A young dingo, like this one seen here, is typical of those found around four wheel drive camping areas on Australia’s Fraser island. Media warnings suggest they should not be trusted.
Sadly, the Australian public was more inclined to place faith in the (imagined good) character of a wild dog than in the word of a pastor’s wife. People wore T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, The dingo is innocent.’
Many were not surprised when Mrs Chamberlain was convicted of murder, on the basis of scientific experts’ seemingly irrefutable assessment of forensic evidence. This was despite eyewitness testimony that the baby was alive after the time at which the Crown Prosecutor claimed her mother had murdered her.
Some years later—while Mrs Chamberlain was serving a life sentence in prison—the discovery of further evidence confirmed an aspect of her account. She was released from prison, and subsequently officially exonerated.
Yet many Australians remained unconvinced, obviously unaware of (or deliberately ignoring) the counsel that ‘Every matter should be established on the testimony of two or more witnesses’ (2 Corinthians 13:1, Deuteronomy 19:15). In the minds of many, the original forensic findings held sway—despite official recognition that forensic scientists had misinterpreted the evidence. For example, the ‘bloodstains’ reported to have been identified inside the Chamberlains’ car were later found to be various chemicals sprayed during vehicle manufacture.
It was not until the gruesome death in 2001 of a nine-year-old boy holidaying with his family on Fraser Island, just off Australia’s east coast, that many Australians finally began to consider it possible that a dingo did take the life of Azaria Chamberlain two decades earlier.
Graphic eyewitness testimony from horrified family members of the young lad being chewed upon by the feeding canines shocked a nation.
Consequently, government agencies now warn tourists that dingoes ‘are capable of killing people.’1 (Which is just as well, as a family recently scared away a dingo that had walked into their hotel room and was only 60 cm (2 ft) away from their baby lying on the bed.2)
Notice that these warnings are made on the basis of eyewitness testimony, not ‘forensic evidence’. There’s a moral there somewhere for when it comes to knowing how the world began.
References and notes
- ‘Be dingo-aware!—Fraser Island World Heritage Area’, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service information brochure, Queensland Government, available at www.epa. qld.gov.au/publications/ p00517aa.pdf/Be_dingo aware_Fraser_lsland_World_Heritage_Area.pdf.
- The baby’s mother recounted, ‘It was quite nasty. It stood its ground too. My husband had to really stamp his feet and run at it … to get it out of the room. Obviously we were very shaken …’. ABC News Online, Dingo stalks baby on Fraser Island, www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200411/s1239826.htm, 10 November 2004.
‘Dingoes and sheep don’t mix’
As the First Fleet’s cargo of sheep, along with other livestock and goods necessary for establishing the colony, was offloaded onto the ‘Great South Land’ in 1788, could anyone have known that this fledgling nation’s economy would largely be built ‘on the sheep’s back’ (i.e. wool), and that an epic war against the dingo lay ahead?
It didn’t take long for dingoes to learn that sheep were ‘easy pickings’ compared to their prey of native animals. When sheep farmers saw that dingoes would harass, bite and kill sheep in large numbers without actually eating them,1 they realized something had to be done. On stations (the Australian equivalent of ‘ranches’) that used to shear 100,000 sheep, dingoes inflicted such heavy losses that owners switched to cattle instead.
Others mounted massive shooting, trapping and poisoning campaigns to try to control the problem of dingoes, which apparently multiplied substantially after sheep were introduced.2 Realizing that ‘dingoes and sheep don’t mix’,3 many woolgrowers constructed wire mesh fences to try to protect their sheep.
Ultimately, the longest exclusion fence in the world—at 5,321 km (3,307 miles), longer even than the Great Wall of China—was built to try to protect the sheep industry in the entire south-east part of Australia. South of the Dog Fence, dingoes are declared vermin, attracting bounties of up to A$500 (US$380) per scalp.4–5 North of the fence, the dingo is regarded as a legitimate wildlife species and roams freely.
South of this 1.8-metre-high (6 ft) protective fence, sheep can now graze in relative safety—alongside kangaroos, whose populations have exploded in the absence of a predator large enough to keep their numbers in check.6
Jesus used the well-known dangers of wolves (the ancestors of dingoes) to sheep in teaching his disciples (see Matthew 7:15, 10:16; John 10: 11–16). The Apostle Paul did likewise (Acts 20:28–31). But was it always thus?
No—in the beginning everything was created ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). The ancestral wolf/dingo did not rip lambs apart with its sharp teeth ‘just for fun’. Nor for food, as originally all animals were created vegetarian (Genesis 1: 30). There was no death before Adam sinned (Romans 5:12,17; 8:19–22, 1 Corinthians 15:21). The Bible also speaks of a future time when ‘the wolf will live with the lamb’ (Isaiah 11:6), and they ‘will feed together’ (Isaiah 65:25) again!7
But how could this be—don’t dingoes and wolves need to eat meat to live? Not so—today we see echoes of Genesis in that the dingo is able to not only eat fruit,8 but also survive (for generation after generation) on a diet virtually devoid of meat.
In meat-poor south-east Asia, village dingoes predominantly make do with food scraps of cooked rice and vegetables, and fruit. A vegetarian wolf in our midst!9
References and notes
- The Dingo, www.qmuseum.qld. gov.au/inquiry/leaflets/leaflet.pdf, 9 November 2004.
- However, this may not only have been due to increased food supply. Possibly the dingo was a relatively recent arrival in Australia, meaning that its numbers were still increasing anyway—just as later introductions would do. See Wieland, C., The grey blanket—what the story of Australia’s amazing rabbit plague teaches us about the Genesis Flood, Creation 25(4): 45–47, 2003.
- Yet, somewhat ironically, the Australian kelpie, recognized as a dingo hybrid, has been described as ‘the greatest sheepdog in the world’—certainly many kelpies have been champion sheepdogs, easily winning sheepdog trials. The Kelpie Story, www.geocities. com/Petsburgh/6392/today.htm?200412, 12 November 2004.
- Orchard, F. and Bloomfield, T., Wild dogs and dingoes in Victoria, Department of Primary Industries Information Series, www.dpi.vic. gov.au/DPI/nreninf.nsf/fid/0690615EEDE4B91BCA256E7200257A8D, 9 November 2004.
- Dingo control in South Australia, www.dwlbc.sa.gov.au/biodiversity/pests/animals/ dingo.html, 3 November 2004.
- Pople, A.R. et al., Trends in the numbers of red kangaroos and emus on either side of the South Australian dingo fence: evidence for predator regulation? Wildlife Research 27(3):269–276, 2000.
- Grigg, R., The future—some issues for long-age Christians, Creation 25(4):50–51, 2003.
- Dingo (Canis lupus dingo) facts and pictures, www.lioncrusher. com/animal.asp?animal=168, 9 November 2004.
- Other ‘carnivores’ can also survive on meat-free diets. See Catchpoole, D., The lion that wouldn’t eat meat, Creation 22(2): 22–23, 2000; and Catchpoole, D., The ‘bird of prey’ that’s not, Creation 23(1):24–25, 2000.
References and notes
- O’Neill, T., Travelling the Australian dog fence, National Geographic 191(4): 18–37, 1997. Return to text.
- Authorities destroy dingoes suspected of fatal Fraser Island attack, ABC Online News, www.abc.net.au/news/2001/04/ item20010430131729_l.htm, 18 October 2004. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Dingo days down under (again), Creation 23(4):6, 2001; also at The Australian dingo: a wolf in dog’s clothing. Return to text.
- The ‘First Fleet’ arrived in 1788. Return to text.
- What are the origins of the dingo? Dingo Farm, www.wwwins.net.au/dingofarm/02.html, 18 October 2004. Return to text.
- Orchard, F. and Bloomfield, T., Wild dogs and dingoes in Victoria, Department of Primary Industries Information Series, www.dpi.vic.gov.au/DPI/nreninf.nsf/fid/06 90615EEDE4B91 BCA256E7200257A8D, 9 November 2004. Return to text.
- Morell, V., The origin of dogs: running with the wolves, Science 276(5319):1647–1648, 1997. Return to text.
- Vila, C. et al„ Multiple and ancient origins of the domestic dog, Science 276(5319): 1687–1689, 1997. Return to text.
- Ham, K., Did God create poodles? Creation 25(4): 19–22, 2003. Return to text.
- The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Canis lupus dingo, animaldiver sity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/ information/Canis_lupus_dingo.html, 9 November 2004. Return to text.
- The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, 4:102, 1992. Return to text.
- Dayton, L., On the trail of the first dingo, Science 302(5645):555–556, 2003. Return to text.
- Savolainen, P. et al., A detailed picture of the origin of the Australian dingo, obtained from the study of mitochondrial DNA, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101(33): 12387–12390, 2004. Return to text.
- Previously, it had been shown that domestic dogs in Eurasia, America and Africa had a common origin. This latest finding shows that applies to domesticated dogs on all continents. Return to text.
- Tracing the road Down Under, Science 302(5645):555, 2003. Return to text.
- Dingo, www.brainyencyclopedia.com/ encyclopedia/d/di/dingo.html, 3 November 2004. Return to text.
- It has been suggested that the dingo was more likely brought as a food source than as a pet. (In certain areas of Asia today, the cooking and eating of dog is common practice.) Wild dingoes descended from domestic dogs, www.newscientist.com/ news/print.jsp?id=ns99994207, 9 November 2004. Return to text.
- Oard, M., An Ice Age caused by the Genesis Flood, ICR, California, 1990. Return to text.
- Rudolph, E.K., Dingo—Canis familiaris, www.drellenrudolph.com/featureanimals/dingo.html, 9 November 2004. Return to text.
- It has been suggested that the Australian dingo is actually heading for ‘extinction’—through hybridization with feral dogs. One estimate puts the Australian population of dingoes as being 80% hybrids. At present, Thailand is said to have the purest populations of dingoes (ref. 19). In Australia, conservationists want to preserve the Fraser Island dingo population’s relative purity, but there is no biological basis for this. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D. and Wieland, C., Speedy species surprise, Creation 23(2):13–15, 2001. Return to text.
- Many people wrongly think that the dingo is difficult to train, but dingo owners have demonstrated otherwise. See, for example, the extract from The Goulburn Post, May 1995, reprinted at Dingo Farm, www.wwwins.net.au/dingofarm/11.html, 20 October 2004. Return to text.
Valuable input and inspiration from Paula Weston is acknowledged.