The Cunning Dingo

In: Society & Animals
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  • 1 University of Tasmania, Australia

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The Australian dingo, like the dog, descends from the wolf. However, although dogs have undergone a lengthy taming process that allows them to fit into human society, dingoes retain many wolf characteristics. Like the wolf and unlike the dog, dingoes do not bark. Dingoes howl; they come into season once a year, and they can dislocate their powerful jaws to seize prey. Since the arrival of settlers and their farming practices in Australia 200 years ago, dingoes have killed sheep, and dogs have learned to protect and control those sheep. Medieval texts admire dogs for their intelligence while denigrating wolves as "cunning"—a word defined as deceitful, crafty, and treacherous. A study of Australian colonial texts reveals a popular representation of the dingo as cowardly, promiscuous, vicious—and cunning. This study compares the representation of dingoes (who by killing sheep worked against the settlers) with the representation of dogs (who protected the farmers' economic interests). Finally, the paper examines those colonial writers who, either deliberately or unintentionally, allowed the dingo to escape the denigrating representation of cunning.

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