False Paw: The 1970s Saskatoon Zoo ‘Dingo’ Was Actually a Crossbreed of Domestic Dogs
An old photograph of a sable-colored dog in a cage in Saskatoon has raised questions about what makes a zoo animal the real deal, as two new dingoes bring the Canadian zoo into an Australian conversation about the status taxonomic and conservation of the dingo.
The early 1970s photo, believed to have been taken at the Saskatoon Forest Farm Park and Zoo, shows the animal clearly labeled as a dingo.
But documents from an old box of papers at the zoo office appear to show the animal was a hybrid of a domestic Labrador dog, a coyote, and a dingo.
Tim Sinclair-Smith, the Australian director of the Saskatoon Zoo, said he wanted to set the record straight by making the public aware that the dog in the photo was not a purebred dingo.
“There’s a lot of… I guess the dark history in zoos you know in the past where things were done very differently,” Sinclair-Smith said.
“Animal hybridization… it’s not acceptable, it’s frowned upon, and neither do we allow it to have professional accredited facilities.”
The question of whether the dog in the photo was in fact a dingo surfaced after two young “purebred” dingoes, Maple and Euci, arrived from Australia in August.
Lesley Avant brought up the existence of the zoo’s first “dingo” after hearing the Saskatoon Zoo claim that Maple and Euci were the first dingoes at a Canadian zoo. She doesn’t know who took the photo but remembers seeing the animal, as well as others she thought were dingoes, herself.
“I remember going to the zoo several times and I remember seeing the dingoes,” said Avant, who said she was not aware of documents indicating the animals were domestic hybrids until now. .
The Saskatoon Forest Farm Park and Zoo opened in 1972 when the city purchased an animal menagerie from the Golden Gate Animal Farm. The city agreed to buy the animals when the farm closed.
Before it closed, the Golden Gate Farm kept an annual record of its animal inventory. From 1964 to 1965, a lone dingo appeared on the list. But in 1966 it was taken off the list and apparently reappeared as a subtitle under another list: Coydogs.
There were five “coydogs” listed in the inventory. All were coyotes (C) crossed with Labrador dogs (L) and the list has been broken down to show the specifics of their breeding. One of the coydogs was listed as: C x L x Goofy. They were among the animals transferred to town when the farm was closed.
Sinclair-Smith believes this is proof that the animals previously called “dingoes” at the zoo weren’t a dingo but a mixture of hybrid species.
He said it is a practice that was common in zoos.
“There’s a lot of facilities out there that have done that, you know, to come up with the next most recent and most important thing, because it’s extremely important to get people through and get that income,” Sinclair-Smith said.
“So you know we have to send this strong message that these ways of doing things in the past are no longer acceptable.”
Sinclair-Smith said hybridization “dilutes” the species, adding that there was no reason to do so except for financial gain.
He said animal husbandry is particularly important in the case of the dingo, which is classified as a pest in parts of Australia. It therefore does not benefit from the same protections as some other Australian species in these areas.
Sinclair-Smith said arguments against classifying the species as native or protected include beliefs that it has interbred so widely with domestic dogs that there are no “purebred” dingoes. outside of Fraser Island in Australia.
“With advances in DNA and our ability to test animals at a more affordable price… we can clearly understand what those populations are while we test there,” Sinclair-Smith said.
“The argument that they’ve been completely hybrid out there that we find is absolutely not true, so that’s one of the fights we are waging.
“We need to protect them now to make sure we maintain these populations and protect these areas… as we would any endangered or threatened species.”
Maybe Canada can learn from Australia’s mistakes– Tim Sinclair-Smith, Director of the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Zoo and Park
A group of Australian scientists, including the director of the Australian Dingo Foundation, recently published an article in The Conversation claiming that the dingo is a native species in identity crisis.
The website for the Australian Dingo Foundation, which helped bring the dingoes to Saskatoon, says the nonprofit is working with researchers on a genome project to determine the ancient origins of the dingo.
According to Sinclair-Smith, the lack of government protection increases the risk to dingoes because they are sometimes seen as a pest by farmers. In Western Australia, they are considered by law to be pests allowed to be killed in areas where there are livestock, provided the slaughter is carried out using legal methods.
“Western Australia’s wild dog management policy is to control all feral dogs, including dingoes, in and near cattle grazing areas in Western Australia,” a statement said from Western Australian Environment Minister Stephen Dawson in March 2019.
“Currently, dingoes can be taken anywhere in the state without a license under the Biodiversity Conservation Act. in national parks and nature reserves. ”
The state of Queensland also protects dingoes in national parks but declares them pests outside these areas.
“The first undisputed archaeological find of the dingo in Australia dates back 3,500 years, when it was probably introduced by Asian sailors,” said a Queensland government fact sheet.
“However, the Queensland Museum notes that recent DNA studies suggest dingoes may have been in Australia for even longer (between 4,640 and 18,100 years).”
Sinclair-Smith believes pressure from the breeding industry is the reason why the dingo is still unprotected in some areas.
He hopes bringing the dingoes to Saskatoon will help raise awareness and increase public pressure on Australian state governments to introduce more protection for the dingoes.
“Maybe Canada can learn from Australia’s mistakes, you know, and vice versa,” Sinclair-Smith said.
“I think there are opportunities to always learn from each other. I think bringing things to an international stage can help put pressure on us because sometimes a different perspective from elsewhere can give you a new light on the situation. “