Conserving pure dingoes at Secret Creek
Conservationists are working hard to create a safe gene pool of purebred dingoes as insurance
A DINGO STOPS beside a fallen log. Her eyes turn upward, focusing on the odd, bird-like creature that has just entered her territory. It sways on one long black leg and seems to have no eyes. The dingo tilts her head, her nose seeks a familiar scent but she is baffled by the fluffy intruder. Cautious, she walks toward it. It doesn't flee. Curious, she opens her mouth to take a small lick.
Bindi the dingo spins around and I'm relieved as she walks away from my boom microphone. Wagging her tail, she walks past me and gives my camera a friendly swipe with her tongue.
I'm at Secret Creek Sanctuary in the Blue Mountains. Devoted to protecting Australia's native species, owner and operator, Australian Geographic 2010 Conservationist of the Year, Trevor Evans, is hoping to save the dingo from its biggest threat: cross-breeding with domestic and feral dogs.
Keeping dingoes pure
One look at Bindi and I feel somebody's pooch has already snuck in the gene pool. Bindi has black fur with brown and white markings, and looks nothing like the tan, long-legged dingoes I've seen in the outback.
I voice my doubts to Trevor. He laughs and says that right there is the main message he's trying to get across to the public. He's had Bindi genetically tested and she is 100 per cent dingo.
Dingoes had been isolated in Australia for at least 5000 years and possibly up to 18,000 years. As they expanded their range they started to evolve to suit their surroundings. With her short frame Bindi can easily move around in the rainforest, and her dark coat, common among rainforest dingoes, helps her blend in with dense foliage.
In sharp contrast to Bindi is a pure white alpine dingo named Bundy. His fur has a double coat for warmth in the winter, he has a bigger build for taking down large prey like wombats and kangaroos, and he's happy to sleep in snow with his bushy tail covering his nose for warmth.
Dingoes could be bred out of the wild in as little as 15 years. There are several differences between dingoes and dogs, including their body features, vocalisations, lifespan and breeding season. Unlike dogs, dingoes only breed once a year in winter, so the pups are born in spring when there's a large food supply.
Creating a gene pool of pure dingo
Trevor and other conservationists are working hard to create a safe gene pool of purebred dingoes as insurance for the future. While Bindi and Bundy are used for education and to increase the purebred stock, the main goal of Trevor's work is to get a stable population of dingoes back into the wild, where they can reclaim their status as a top predator and help control the population size of rabbits and kangaroos, as well as other, native, prey species.
Across the hill a dingo starts to howl, its family answers, and soon the forest fills with their calls. I forget about the microphone in my hand and just listen. It is an amazing feeling, and a sound that completes the wilderness. Hopefully with the work of Trevor and Australian Ecosystems Foundation, it will be a sound heard for many more generations.