New research challenges the view that pure dingoes are declining due to crossbreeding with domestic dogs. 

A new study, led by Dr Kylie Cairns, a conservation biologist from UNSW Science, found that wild dingo populations have a significantly greater proportion of pure dingoes than previously believed. 

The findings suggest that previous studies overestimated the prevalence of dingo-dog hybrids in the wild and that lethal methods used to control “wild dogs” actually target pure dingoes.

The research team analysed the DNA of 391 wild and captive dingoes from different regions across Australia using a new genome-wide test. 

The results showed that wild dingoes have far less dog ancestry than previously thought. 

The old genetic testing method, which relied on a limited number of genetic markers, often misidentified pure dingoes as crossbred animals. 

The new test, which examines 195,000 points across the genome, provides a more reliable and accurate assessment of dingo ancestry.

The study revealed that in Victoria, where previous reports suggested the pure dingo population was as low as 4 per cent, 87.1 per cent of animals tested were pure dingoes. 

Similarly, in New South Wales and Queensland, where dingo-dog hybridisation was assumed to be widespread, most animals were found to be pure dingoes. 

The study also found little evidence of hybridisation in the dingo populations of the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia.

Dr Cairns says the research shows that dingoes are largely maintaining their genetic identity and that fears of breeding themselves into extinction are unfounded. 

The findings have significant implications for the management and conservation of dingoes in Australia.

The study also identified four distinct wild dingo populations across mainland Australia, indicating significant regional variation. 

Dr Cairns said there is a need for further research to investigate the integration of dog DNA into the dingo genome and to assess the impact on dingo populations.

The research findings challenge the current policy approach in Australia, which considers dingoes, dingo-hybrids, and feral domestic dogs as invasive species under the term “wild dog” 

This classification has led to the lethal control measures of dingoes across various landscapes, including protected areas. 

The researchers recommend revising the definition of “dingoes” in conservation policy to include historical dingo backcrosses with high dingo ancestry and differentiate them from feral domestic dogs.

Dr Cairns said it is important to find a balance in dingo management, considering their role as apex predators in maintaining ecosystem function and biodiversity. 

Lethal control methods, particularly during the dingo breeding season, may unintentionally increase the risk of hybridisation by killing off the boldest dingoes and allowing actual wild dogs to infiltrate their groups. 

The researchers suggest that a more accurate recognition of dingoes in policy will better reflect their identity as a native and culturally significant species in Australia.