Feb 14

Today the dingo has been crowned the World’s Favourite Unloved Species, after two weeks of voting and some fierce competition. Here Bret Charman discusses his experiences with photographing this misunderstood yet beautiful species.

The world’s wild dog species, for the most part, are on a downward spiral – none more so than the iconic dingo of Australia. Unlike the profile of many of the world’s apex predators, many people still see the dingo as a pest species, particularly by some livestock farmers in the outback, and as such, there is little in the way of protection for this vital predator. Perceptions are starting to change though, as many have started to realise the species’ importance in managing the populations of rabbits, kangaroos and even feral cats.

Award-winning wildlife photographer Bret Charman spent 10 months exploring the south and east of Australia, getting up close and personal to these fascinating predators.

In 2014/15 I was incredibly lucky to spend 10 months exploring a remarkable country – Australia. The wildlife here is unlike anywhere else on earth, uniquely adapted to the diverse habitats that make up the Australian wilderness. Deep down, I have always had a love affair with the world’s canids and the dingo was a species I was desperate to see.

Like any of the world’s apex predators, there are fantastical stories about the dingo and their blood-thirsty habits. Headlines such as 6-year-old escaped by the bare buttocks from a dingo attack’, give an impression of a savage, mindless predator out to get the average person. However, when you dig a little deeper you realise that it is rarely the dingo that is to blame, and actually these wild dogs are an incredibly intelligent, resourceful and adaptable species.

I am happy tell you I have had multiple close encounters with wild dingoes, and I never once felt in danger or lost any item of clothing in the process. In fact, just like a domestic dog, dingoes give incredibly clear signals as to how they are feeling and are much more afraid of people than many would have us believe.

My first experience was on the western coastline of Fraser Island, I knew there were dingoes in the area as I had seen their tracks around a washed up turtle carcass. Setting off down the beach, following these tracks, I sighted a small group of dogs on the water’s edge around 300 yards away. I got low down so as not to spook them, but my efforts were in vain as they immediately clocked me and disappeared into the island’s forested hills. I thought I had lost the moment, annoyed at myself for disturbing them – as a wildlife photographer my job is to capture striking images but not directly affect the subject’s behaviour.

I turned my attention to the setting sun and after a few minutes I had that primeval feeling … I was being watched. I turned around and looked up towards the top of a sandy bluff. There were the three dingoes I had sighted only 20 minutes before, all three watching me intently before suddenly two individuals headed off into the forest. One lone dog remained and watched me … we both seemed to be fascinated by the other’s presence. Neither of us made any attempt to approach each other, we simply sat and watched one another for around 5 minutes (and in my case managed to capture a few images) before we both knew it was time to head home. I have never had an experience with a predator in the same way before. Neither the dingo, or myself, were afraid of one another, there was simply a mutual respect. There was a silent understanding that if we stayed put, we were both comfortable in each other’s presence. These dingoes weren’t the mindless predator I had heard so much about, they had foresight, planning and in-depth understanding of human behaviour. Of course that remarkable evening only left me wanting more!

The danger of getting involved in photographing the world’s predators is rarely any attack from the animal itself, the trouble in fact starts with the emotions that these encounters stir up. You get an attack of passion, an addiction! I was completely hooked, but I knew I hadn’t captured an image that reflected the true nature of the dingo. I had to keep trying. I had to hope another chance would come my way – luckily for me I was fortunate enough to capture the image below in a separate encounter.

I spent over an hour following this beautiful female as she went about her daily business.  I believe this image really shows the true character of a dingo – a species of wild dog that is perfectly suited to Australia’s harsh environment, a predator that keeps a natural balance in an ecosystem and actually controls the numbers of other pest species which are far more damaging for agriculture. Quite simply this species of wild dog is an integral part of the landscape and that is why it fits so comfortably across this vast land.

There can be no denying that there is always going to be issues with livestock being killed by dingoes, and this will always be a flashpoint. However, there has been some recent evidence which has actually suggested that where these apex predators occur on farms with livestock, the farmers often have better grass yields as a result of fewer grazers competing over this limited resource. This in turn increases the farmer’s revenue from the healthier livestock reared on this land.

Dingoes will always carry out the odd raid on livestock, but just as the wolf has transformed the landscapes of Yellowstone NP since its reintroduction, perhaps the Australian equivalent can play a pivotal role in the restoration of the outback. If all sides can come together and better understand the dingo and the role it plays, there could be unknown benefits for all involved. There is hope yet to save this iconic species, but if no one is prepared to make a stand then they could all too easily slip away.

Bret’s next big photography project is ‘Life in the Clouds’ – a photographic exploration of Ecuador’s cloud forests and the intricacies that altitude plays in the distribution of species. Find out more about the project here.

  • Margaret Roestorf (February 14th, 2017 at 12:55 pm):

    Loosing to a dingo I can live with:-), although I still think that the spotted hyaena should be wearing the crown. Congratulation to the dingo and to Bret!

  • Cheryl Bryant (February 14th, 2017 at 8:58 pm):

    Congratulations to our dingo in achieving well deserved recognition and a well written article which captures the essence of our misunderstood apex predator.

  • Kerrie Goodchild (February 14th, 2017 at 11:15 pm):

    Perfectly said and very valid reasons for highlighting this beautiful creature. So sad for the title of being named ” unloved”. I loved it that Brett got to feel how wonderful this animal is. I too have had these experiences – https://open.abc.net.au/explore/105921
    This animal needs its bad reputation changed to reflect that fact that as a top order predator it’s doing the job it’s meant to and the livestock are in its territory, not the other way around.

  • george petrovsky (February 14th, 2017 at 11:24 pm):

    Bravo, Bret! Your open minded attitude and the pictures you present are to be applauded.
    I’ve interacted with Dingoes at a local sanctuary and we were quite at ease in each others’ presence. They were happy to pose for me at I took their photos. This helped to dispel any preconceived ideas I may have had about them.

    :) george

  • Jill (February 15th, 2017 at 3:03 am):

    Thank you for this piece and your wonderful photographs. I live in Australia and the treatment of the dingo here is a constant source of sadness and shame. The dingo has been, and continues to be in some places, treated with a malicious cruelty that is sickening. They continue to be trapped, shot, poisoned and run down with impunity. Many farmers and graziers take pride in hanging dead dingoes from fences and trees as some sort of sick boast. There is is ample evidence now that these lovely creatures benefit the Australian environment, that culling simply disrupts dingo pack’s social structures leading to young dingoes failing to learn how and where to hunt, even evidence that dingoes feed primarily on small mammals and generally do not hunt livestock.only scavenging on sheep and cattle that are already dead.
    Australian federal and state governments, on the whole, turn a blind eye to the destruction of the dingo because of fear of upsetting farmers and because they simply do not care. Fraser Island is a case in point. Dingoes are regularly shot there for approaching tourists, meanwhile tourists who deliberately run dingoes down do so largely without penalty. The slaughter of dingoes on Fraser Island has been horrific, but the Queensland government does nothing, apparently out of fear of losing the tourist dollar.
    Maybe the only hope the dingo has is for their plight to be exposed to an international audience. This may be the only thing that will force Australian governments to move to protect the dingo and its welfare before it is too late. Your photographs show what a truly beautiful and intelligent creature the dingo is and my hope is that they will inspire others to speak up.

  • Hana (February 18th, 2017 at 11:55 pm):

    Wow Brett! These photos are absolutely stunning and capture the beautiful Dingo so perfectly. I have lived on K’gari for over 6 years and admired the Dingo for a long time. I have had so many wonderful encounters and have the utmost respect for this incredible species. If you ever come back please drop in and see us or better still come and stay with us :)

    We have just launched our new #fraserdingowatch program this month, the month of love :) Please do check us out on Instagram, we would love you to share some of your amazing photos on this platform and help us educate people about the importance of our Dingoes.

    Best wishes,

    Beachcamp Eco Retreat on K’gari

  • Richard Terry (February 20th, 2017 at 5:20 am):

    Hi Bret,

    Thank you so much for the time and devotion, you afforded, in presenting your Photp’s and Comments, on this beautiful animal!

    Unfortunately, it is not the Dingo that is at fault, but rather, The Human Species, whose ignorance masks the underlying reality of Nature. Unfortunately, once again, there are certain breeds of domestic canines ,that can and have inflicted great injury to Humans.

    Keep up your Great Work!

    Richard Terry

  • John (February 23rd, 2017 at 7:19 pm):

    wow those are some nice pictures!

  • Bret Charman (April 12th, 2017 at 12:28 pm):

    Hi Everyone,

    My sincere apologies for only just replying to all the lovely comments on my piece of writing and my images (I have had a very busy couple of months). Thank you all for your support for myself but more importantly to this wonderful species.

    The Dingo is without a doubt the one species in Australia that I feel needs some serious support. I understand the complexities involved in conserving this species and the tireless work that a select few dedicate to save this species.

    I do my very best to act as an unofficial ambassador for the Dingo. I regularly spread the word about their importance in the Australian environment, as well as the image in which they should be portrayed. I will continue to fight for the Dingo and I really hope to spend a prolonged period photographing this species in 2018.

    I must thank you all again for your support and wish the Dingo a brighter future.

    Best wishes and warm regards.


  • Marie-louise Sarjeant (April 18th, 2017 at 10:15 am):

    Hello Bret – a really lovely Blog -thank you for writing this good article – The Dingoes of Fraser Island-Dingoes are an iconic Australian animal, their genetics are valuable as they are unique. I am very heartened that you were fortunate enough to capture to see beautiful healty dingoes and capture the stunning images-Fraser Island dingoes are vulnerable from the massive increasing of tourist visitors-Mainland dingoes are at huge risks from shooting, trapping and baiting with the inhumane cruel poison 1080- Many farmers are welcoming predator friendly farming with alternativies to 1080 poison by using LGD (livestock guardian dogs ) such as Maremmas and Anatolian dogs-Positve articles like yours go a long way in helping the dingoes image from being the most controversal canid in Australia equal to the wolves in America to a valubale Apex predator invaluable to the health of our environment and eco-sytem- I will never forget that moment of seeing my first dingoes, at the back of my property,- as you described, they look you in the eyes assessing you and who you are,dignified and magnificent,- then living close to Fraser Island and seeing the dingoes there set a path of passion in campaigning for them – :) All the best -Marie-Louise Sarjeant- https://www.facebook.com/events/1455820814677746/?active_tab=discussion