Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dingo

On our journey through the N.T. we chanced upon Dingos less often than I would have expected, but in at least two instances the meetings were surprising enough to make me suspect that we may have had their company more often than I'd known.

Here's one, by the side of the road. This was the one of the pair hiding in the shadows. The other was scavenging on a piece of something on the road. Might have been roadkill or cattle-dung; I'm not certain.

Another meeting took place at night-time, at Kings Canyon, with my wife and I walking back to our motel from a noisy barbecue restaurant, where we had been entertained by a pair of country music performers calling themselves The Roadies: Ruben and Petrea.

Mellow with wine, full stomachs and lots of laughs, we made our way back to our unit. The Dingo appeared in the street light, loping casually along the road, inspecting us as it took a little detour to avoid getting too close; and presently loped on and disappeared into the night.

'Cool', I thought.

My wife wasn't quite as relaxed about the matter.

"Was that a Dingo?"
"Yep."
"He just..."
"Yep."

Something along those lines.

The next meeting was with Dinky the Dingo (here are two links: 1,2; though the video I snapped with my Cybershot and the last bit of remaining memory was much better than the YouTube version, but it's too big to post)—and his owner Jim, who isn't as famous as Dinky, but has a very interesting personal story as well.

Finally, we saw two young Dingos in the Alice Springs Desert Park, an absolute and quite wonderful and charming 'must-visit' feature of the town.

Of course, I'd seen Dingos before: in zoos, mainly on the Australian East Coast; from which they are now banned, partially by a 5000 km long fence and partially by being considered pests in the East, which means they are hunted without mercy and private ownership is basically prohibited. By contrast, in the N.T. they are not only not considered pests, but there are moves underfoot to start a serious conservation programme. And much needed it is. As Jim explained to the guests at his restaurant who watched Dinky howl—much more musically than many a human singer—Dingos have only one set of cubs per year. Cross-breeds with dogs-gone-wild breed much more prolifically; and hence the pure Dingos are likely to become effectively extinct within a few decades. The situation in many ways mirrors that in some human societies I can think of but won't mention.

Jim also told us other stuff about Dingos. Like that they first came to Australia just a few thousand years ago and that it was probably either a pregnant female or a single pair, because that's what the genetics of the pure Dingos indicate. Meaning they all sprang from highly incestuous couplings. Damn good genes, if you ask me!

Dingos also exhibit behavior and capabilities more to be expected in felines: they have some ability to climb trees; an uncanny ability to land on their feet; and they use all their senses while hunting, which makes them different to dogs who tend to be specialized and prone to sensory tunnel-perception, confining their attention to either hearing, smell or sight. Apparently the Dingo turns on all three full blast. Dingos also—and this made a lot of sense to me—don't smell; stink that is, like dogs tend to, and especially in the Australian climate. Read the article in the ABC link to find out more about Dinky, who is a 'character', much like his owner.

I'm not a 'dog' person but a cat guy. A lot of that has to do with living in a urban context and with the fact that over the years dogs have been bred into so many munted varieties that one can almost forget that the ancestor of these creatures is actually something like a wolf. Or a Dingo maybe, who is like a mix between a wolf and a jackal. Behind those eyes and in their demeanor I though I detected something approximating intelligence, though it's not of the kind found among humans. (And how could it be? At this point I'd love to start a tirade about the abuse of the term 'intelligence' by just about everybody and sundry, but refrain with some effort.)

My problem with not being a dog-person is that dogs seem not to know that. There's got to be something lurking in my psyche I haven't quite figured out yet. Either that or they know something I don't. That's a thought I could choose to find disturbing, but don't. A wolf in a previous incarnation? A Dingo?

Back to Dingos: Thing is—and this is something I can't explain, mind you—but I sense that I actually just like them. This is not a rational thing, to be sure, and so don't ask me to explain it; but I think it may have been the Dingo on the street in the night. Not for an instant did it occur to me to be in the slightest concerned during the encounter. It was more like "Yo, buddy; how's hunting tonight? Scavenged any nice inadequately-sealed rubbish bins?" I didn't even notice my lack of either surprise or concern about meeting up, unarmed, with the prime predator of the Australian continent without a fence between us, until I reflected on the encounter afterwards when my wife told me that she wasn't quite at ease with the notion of having these guys roaming around freely in the countryside and generally having a good time, and never mind the pesky humans all around.

It occurs to me that, supposing I had a crapload of money—which I don't, but one can dream—might consider doing something serious about keeping this species alive; like maybe opening a sanctuary for the N.T. somewhere near Alice. It would be an effort I could resonate with. That's a new one for me.

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