Every so often, we are witness to an interaction between a predator and its prey. It isn’t the most comfortable thing to see, but it is part of the natural world. In order to survive, animals have developed a vast array of ways to both catch prey and avoid being eaten. It’s a delicate balance, and not always clear who will be successful.
While walking around a property with several ponds, we noticed a dog trotting along one of the water’s edge. We didn’t think much of it - it looked like someone’s domestic dog. But it also seemed a little weird. Long legs, like a wolf, jutting ribs, powerful muscles, large head. We stared at it a few moments with confusion at first.
Then Elias exclaims, “OMG!! That’s a dingo!”
We watched it with fascination. It kept looking down at the pond to its side and trotted quickly, back and forth. We approached the same pond in which the dingo was interested, and saw something dark swimming in the center. It was some sort of water-logged mammal that was struggling and splashing. Then we realized the animal in trouble was a kangaroo. It was treading water like mad and didn’t have much time. Kangaroo forelimbs aren’t exactly the best tools to stay afloat. The dingo saw us watching and almost seemed irritated that we were interrupting its next meal. It eventually backed off and gave up. The exhausted kangaroo swam toward the shore nearest to us and sat resting on the edge for a long time. It too, watched us, wondering if we were working with the dingo. How long the kangaroo had been struggling, we don’t know. It seemed the dingo was trying to wear it down.
Genomic analysis shows the dingo reached Australia 8,300 years ago, but the human population who brought them remains a mystery. Dingos have been a benefit to their environment, because they hunt introduced deer and highly-invasive rabbits. A pack of dingos could pursue a feral donkey or wild horse. When they went out of control hunting sheep and cattle, a nation-wide fencing project went into effect. Trapping and poison wasn’t working and created too much of an hazard for other animals. The Dingo Fence was finally finished in 1946, connecting with other fences in NSW and Queensland. Because responsibility for maintaining the fence lay with landowners whose properties bordered it, the effectiveness of the fence has declined over time. Today, numerous dingo research and working groups operate across the country. Dingo management and risk assessment are now a large part of conservation in Australia.
In the end, we think the kangaroo survived. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves. It never actually left the water while we were there, and refused to come out. But the dingo was discouraged by our presence and was nowhere to be seen. A group of other kangaroos congregated not too far away. We hope that the distressed kangaroo joined the group and is dry and safe again. And that the dingo picks on something smaller next time, or at least its own size.