1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dingo

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7949581911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8 — DingoRichard Lydekker

DINGO, a name applied apparently by Europeans to the warrigal, or native Australian dog, the Canis dingo of J. F. Blumenbach. The dingo is a stoutly-built, rather short-legged, sandy-coloured dog, intermediate in size between a jackal and a wolf, and measuring about 51 in. in total length, of which the tail takes up about eleven. In general appearance it is very like some of the pariah dogs of India and Egypt; and, except on distributional grounds, there is no reason for regarding it as specifically distinct from such breeds. Dingos, which are found both wild and tame, interbreed freely with European dogs introduced into the country, and it may be that the large amount of black on the back of many specimens may be the result of crossing of this nature.

The main point of interest connected with the dingo relates to its origin; that is to say, whether it is a member of the indigenous Australian fauna (among which it is the only large placental mammal), or whether it has been introduced into the country by man. There seems to be no doubt that fossilized remains of the dingo occur intermingled with those of the extinct Australian mammals, such as giant kangaroos, giant wombats and the still more gigantic Diprotodon. And since remains of man have apparently not yet been detected in these deposits, it has been thought by some naturalists that the dingo must be an indigenous species. This was the opinion of Sir Frederick McCoy, by whom the deposits in question were regarded as probably of Pliocene age. A similar view is adopted by D. Ogilvy in a Catalogue of Australian Mammals, published at Sydney in 1892; the writer going however one step further and expressing the belief that the dingo is the ancestor of all domesticated dogs. The latter contention cannot for a moment be sustained; and there are also strong arguments against the indigenous origin of the dingo. That the animal now occurs in a wild state is no argument whatever as to its being indigenous, seeing that a domesticated breed introduced by man into a new country abounding in game would almost certainly revert to the wild state. The apparent absence of human remains in the beds yielding dingo teeth and bones (which are almost certainly not older than the Pleistocene) is of only negative value, and liable to be upset by new discoveries. Then, again (as has been pointed out by R. I. Pocock in the first part of the Kennel Encyclopaedia, 1907), the absence of any really wild species of the typical group of the genus Canis between Burma and Siam on the one hand and Australia on the other is a very strong argument against the dingo being indigenous, seeing that, whether brought by man or having travelled thither of its own accord, the dingo must have reached its present habitat by way of the Austro-Malay archipelago. If it had followed that route in the course of nature, it is inconceivable that it would not still be found on some portions of the route. On the supposition that the dingo was introduced by man, we have now fairly decisive evidence that the native Australian, in place of being (as formerly supposed) a member of the negro stock, is a low type of Caucasian allied to the Veddahs of Ceylon and the Toalas of Celebes. Consequently the Australian natives must be presumed to have reached the island-continent by way of Malaya; and if this be admitted, nothing is more likely than that they should have been accompanied by pariah dogs of the Indian type. Confirmation of this is afforded by the occurrence in the mountains of Java of a pariah-like dog which has reverted to an almost completely wild condition; and likewise by the fact that the old voyagers met with dogs more or less similar to the dingo in New Guinea, New Zealand and the Solomon and certain other of the smaller Pacific islands. On the whole, then, the most probable explanation of the case is that the dingo is an introduced species closely allied to the Indian pariah dog. Whether the latter represents a truly wild type now extinct, cannot be determined. If so, all pariahs should be classed with the Australian warrigal under the name of Canis dingo. If, on the other hand, pariahs, and consequently the dingo, cannot be separated specifically from the domesticated dogs of western Europe, then the dingo should be designated Canis familiaris dingo.  (R. L.*)