Peter Menkhorst reviews 'The Dingo Debate' edited by Bradley Smith

Peter Menkhorst reviews 'The Dingo Debate' edited by Bradley Smith

The Dingo Debate: Origins, Behaviour and conservation

edited by Bradley Smith

CSIRO Publishing, $39.95 pb, 321 pp, 9781486300297

Australia’s wild dog, the dingo, probably generates the most diverse human responses of any of our fauna – from a determination to exterminate to passionate conservation advocacy. This book is a bold attempt to cover this diversity and asserts that the dingo is a unique wild animal worthy of conservation for its intrinsic value, as well as for its critical role in ecological function and stability. It is a complex story involving the evolutionary history of wolves and dogs, the latest genetic techniques for elucidating relationships between species and populations, Aboriginal culture, and the attitudes about wildlife held by European settlers and modern Australians. 

One issue that editor and primary author, Bradley Smith, labours, and eventually stumbles, over concerns the position of the dingo within the family Canidae. Is the dingo a dog or an offshoot of an Asian wolf? For all practical purposes, these taxonomic semantics matter little – the book builds a strong case that the dingo is a distinctive form of wild canid that deserves full conservation attention because of that distinctiveness and, importantly, because of the ecological role that it plays as Australia’s largest predator. That point aside, Smith and his five expert co-authors tackle this complexity with assurance in this comprehensive, well-argued, nicely illustrated book.

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Published in October 2015, no. 375
Peter Menkhorst

Peter Menkhorst

Peter Menkhorst is a Melbourne-based zoologist specialising in mammal and bird ecology and conservation, particularly in devising recovery strategies for threatened species, and guiding their implementation. He has published extensively in both scientific and popular literature, including Mammals of Victoria (1995), a definitive book on the subject, and A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia (2001, now in its third edition). Peter is currently part of a team preparing a new field guide to Australian birds for CSIRO Publishing.