New Study Sheds Light On Dingo DNA; They Are Related To Domestic Dogs, But Were They Ever Domesticated?

Australia is isolated and home to dozens of unusual creatures including koala bears, numerous marsupials, lots of poisonous snakes and the dingo a somewhat mysterious canine.

Dingoes are the subject of a recent study that sheds light on the origin of these dogs but doesn’t quite settle the question of whether they were ever domesticated. It does however, tend to show they are descended of wild dogs and not from any domestic breed. In fact, the research shows that the difference between dingoes and domestic dogs is greater than that between any two human populations. That seems to put them in an intermediate position between wolves and domestic dogs. They are sill listed as a breed of domestic dog and it is unclear if the new study will change this.

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Domestic dogs arrived in Australia in 1788. Dingoes were present at least 5,000 years ago and maybe as long as 8,500 years ago. Many have thought they are descended of domestic dogs that came to Australia with Asian seafarers. That theory holds they turned wild after arrival. The new study does not rule this out, but the authors think it is less likely. Genome sequencing shows that dingoes, like wolves and a few other canines, are not good at digesting starch. Their Australian diet is mostly reptiles and marsupials and they have little need to digest starch. Dogs probably began to digest starch as their human companions began to grow grain crops and fed grains to them. The inability to digest starch suggests dingoes were never fully domesticated.

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That doesn’t mean they had no association with humans, who seem to have brought them to Australia. Just as a small wild cat can be brought from one place to another, so can essentially wild dogs. The difference would be that a fully domestic dog would have been selectively bred, and there is no evidence dingoes ever were. At least according to this study.

envelope stamp with wombat
Wombats are on the low-starch dingo menu. Photo by Karen Laårk Boshoff on

The research is based off of a pure bred rescue dingo named Sandy who now lives in a sanctuary. Her skin and tissue samples were compared to five different domestic breeds. The results have implications for the dingoes status. Since they are not merely feral domestic dogs their conservation status may be enhanced. Currently dingoes and feral dogs may be culled to prevent attacks on livestock. Dingoes and domestic dogs are interbreeding and efforts to curb this may be instituted.

Australian wildlife is facing several complicated issues. One of the biggest is the threat posed by invasive species. We have talked about that here.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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