It was Meryl Streep that made the Dingo famous.
In August 1980, a family was camping in Ayers Rock, Australia when tragedy struck. Their nine-week old baby girl disappeared from the campsite. Her parents thought that a Dingo had taken her, but the police suspected otherwise. The parents were charged with murder. The baby’s mother, Lindy Chamberlain, was convicted of killing her own daughter and imprisoned. It was many years later, after investigations were re-opened following the movie “A Cry in the Dark,” that it was confirmed that a Dingo had indeed taken the baby and killed it. Lindy Chamberlain – who was portrayed by Meryl Streep in the movie - was exonerated.
A Dingo is a wild Australian dog. Fossils indicate it was brought to the island continent 3500-4000 years ago by seafarers, probably from Asia.
It may live alone or in packs of up to ten animals. Coloured reddish or brown, it has white legs and chest, and a bushy tail. It is found all over Australia as well as in Southeast Asia. Its canine teeth are longer than those of a domestic dog, and its muzzle is also longer and more tapered. Like other wild dogs and unlike domestic dogs, it lacks dewclaws – the extra claw growing higher on dog’s feet.
The Dingo is Australia’s largest terrestrial carnivore (in the water there are crocodiles!) It hunts in packs, communicating with each other by howling rather than barking. It will eat mammals such as rabbits, kangaroos, wallabies and wombats. However, in places where these are scarce the Dingo will attack and eat farm animals. Thus it is unpopular with Australian farmers and regarded as a pest in some places where it is killed in large numbers. This is part of the reason for their status as Vulnerable to Extinction according to IUCN.
I have been to Australia thrice but saw Dingos only during my last trip. Early one morning my friends and I were driving out of Kakadu National Park. The forest on either side of the road was fenced off with barbed wire to prevent kangaroos from running into cars. In the early morning light we saw a Dingo inside the fence, looking a little like our Khek Sheyal. We immediately slowed down and it ran along the fence parallel to us before disappearing into the wilderness.
A few minutes later, we saw a second Dingo. It was more obliging. As we stopped the car it stared back at us allowing me some photographs.
Perhaps they are not well-loved, but as Australia’s apex predator, Dingos serve an ecological purpose. They control the population of smaller animals and suppress feral predators such as cats and foxes.
Dingos are, of course, only one type of wild dog. In Bangladesh we have the wild dog known as Dhole, sometimes seen in our national parks. The wild dog seen in Africa is dark coloured with black and white patches. Wild dogs have their own species name; for example, the Dhole is Cuon alpinus. However, the domestic dog does not have its own species name and goes by the wolf’s Canis lupus. Domestic dogs can mate with wolves but not with wild dogs.
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