20-year dingo myth busted by new research

New DNA analysis has found animals labelled wild dogs were actually dingoes.

Stories of wild dogs roaming Australia have been proven to be largely untrue, thanks to six years of DNA research.

What Dr Kylie Cairns and her team have discovered is that most of these animals are actually pure dingo, and only a small per cent had interbred with domestic dogs.

“Most of the animals being killed as wild dogs are pure dingo or more than 93 per cent pure,” she told Yahoo.

A dingo in the distance in a red field.
Reports that wild dogs are roaming Australia are largely untrue, new research has concluded. Source: Getty (File)

For the past 20 years, scientists had used 23 points on a dingoes genome to determine its purity, but the University of NSW-led team upped the standard, looking at 195,000. This new standard resulted in findings that the animals were incorrectly identified as cross-breeds.

How governments purpose the term 'wild dog' for killing

Thousands of dingoes are killed by government trapping, shooting and poisoning programs across Australia.

Governments use the term “wild dog” when they are killing them to protect sheep, and the word dingo when they’re conserving them in national parks.

You can read more about how states manage "wild dogs" here:

Why the words ‘wild dog’ matter

Dr Cairns believes incorrect language has helped create an urban myth that there are plagues of wild dogs roaming the countryside.

“This leads to confusion with the general public not understanding the animals that are being killed are dingoes. Quite often people will say dingoes and wild dogs… when they’re not two separate things,” she said.

“So making sure that our language is clear, means that people understand what management actions are being taken.”

Two images of a dingo caught in a leg-hold trap.
In Victoria, dingoes are caught using leg-hold traps, something the RSPCA does not condone. Source: Defend the Wild

How wrong did our researchers have it?

It was previously believed that only four per cent of dingoes in Victoria were pure, but the research – published in Molecular Ecology – found the figure is actually 87.1 per cent, and a further 6.5 per cent were 93 per cent pure.

Testing across NSW and Queensland only found two animals that were less than 70 per cent pure, with scant evidence of crossbreeding in Western Australia, Northern Territory or South Australia.

“Even in the parts of Australia where dingo-dog hybridisation is higher, it is not the pervasive threat we’ve been led to believe,” Dr Cairns said in a statement.

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