Wild Dogs Research

Skyrail News: April 2012

Researchers are coming closer to understanding wild dogs’ future in the Far North, amid concerns that genetically pure dingoes could be bred into extinction.

A four-year research study of wild dogs in the Wet Tropics has started analysing hair samples to examine the impact of cross-breeding among wild dogs in the region. Wild dogs include dingoes, free-ranging domestic dogs and hybrid dogs. Across Australia conservationists and researchers alike have noted a large influx of domestic dog genes mixing with the dingo gene pool, which could pose a serious threat to the dingo as a pure-breed subspecies.

In the Far North, James Cook University PHD student Damian Morrant collected information on the genetic status of wild dogs through the use of hair traps and collecting scat samples. He said dingoes and domestic dogs were a subspecies of the wolf, which allowed them to inter-breed.

A liquid, previously used in a US study to attract wild coyotes, was applied to bristly hair traps that the wild dogs roll on and provide researchers with a DNA sample. “The swapping of domestic genes are thought to be the major threat to dingoes as a pure sub-species,” Mr Morrant said. “Certainly in other parts of Australia it’s been found that certain populations are highly inter-bred but the further you move out from built-up urban areas the more likely you are to find pure dingoes. “While almost all animals I’ve seen in the Wet Tropics appear very dingo-like, some have characteristics that are not typical in pure dingoes, and suggest they may be dingo – dog crosses.”

Mr Morrant’s research has also explored the public’s attitude toward wild dogs, their diet and the movement patterns in coastal lowlands. GPS tracking collars, funded by the Skyrail Rainforest Foundation, were fitted on about seven dogs last year, with another 12 hoped to be captured and released in the coming months. The study is being conducted with JCU  researcher Liz Ellis, who has been analysing the diets of wild dogs to measure their impact on the environment. Ms Ellis said the data had so far shown no indication that wild dogs were feeding on native or endangered species, but primarily ate bandicoots, melomys and rats. “I’m trying to figure out how they are using their prey,” she said. The results of the study are expected to be released early next year.

By Laura Packham, published in the Cairns Post

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