Where did the Australian dingo go? Once present throughout that country, the feared predator (Canis lupus dingo) in its current form is on its way to extinction as it is either killed or breeds and hybridizes with domesticated dogs. With the disappearance of the purebred dingo comes the loss of an important part of the region's ecosystem as well as a greater chance of environmental destruction by invasive species such as foxes and feral cats.

Now the Australian state of Victoria is taking baby steps toward preserving the dingo. Eighty percent of the dingoes there are hybrids, and pure dingoes exist in only two remote, mountainous areas.

Back in 2008 the Victoria Department of Sustainability and Environment declared the dingo a threatened species and has now, finally, taken the first steps toward preventing the dingo's extinction by planning to set aside public land for dingo preservation. (No land has actually been set aside yet, however.)

Part of the problem is that so many Australians, to put it mildly, hate the dingo. Farmers see the predator as a pest and threat to livestock. There is also a history of dingo attacks on humans, typified by the oft-quoted line spoken by Meryl Streep in A Cry in the Dark, "the dingo ate my baby."

But dingo attacks on humans are rare, and it might be time to reconsider just how much of a problem dingoes really present to farmers. As Ernest Healy, president of the Victorian Dingo CARE Network, wrote in an article for The Sydney Morning Herald, 3,600 sheep out of a total of 21 million were killed by predators in Victoria in 2005, "a loss rate of less than two in every 10,000 sheep. Do we really want to continue to drive a native animal to extinction for the sake of a relative handful of sheep?"

There is one bit of good news about the dingo: One of the few purebred dingo populations is on isolated Fraser Island, 300 kilometers off the coast of Queensland, where domesticated dogs are not permitted. A new survey released last week counted 231 dingoes on the island, healthier than the previous count of 100 to 120 animals.

Photo: Australian dingo, via Wikipedia