Meet Australia’s wild dogs – the dingoes

Meet Australia’s wild dogsthe dingoes

Despite their popularity within Australia itself, few outside know about dingoes and, even if they do, few know more about them than just their name.

A dingo catching a quick snooze on their habitat platform at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Video taken by Zoolife community member fireworkgirl.

Did Zoolife add… dogs… to their map? Well, sort of! Australia is home to countless amazing species – some you may be familiar with and some you may not. Despite their popularity within the continent itself, few outside know about dingoes and, even if they do, few know more about them than just their name.

At the most basic level, the dingo is Australia’s wild dog. The origin of the dingo is still a heavily discussed subject, with multiple beginnings, but the majority of research points to them having descended from an ancient breed of domestic dog introduced 4,000 years ago by Asian seafarers. Other research points to a possible land bridge introduction form Papua New Guinea. The most likely scenario, however, is a combination of the two.

Two members of Lone Pine's dingo pack keeping a watchful eye of their habitat. Photo taken by Zoolife community member tiredturtle32252.
Two members of Lone Pine’s dingo pack keeping a watchful eye of their habitat. Photo taken by Zoolife community member tiredturtle32252.

So…what is a dingo?

The ancient breed of domestic dog, like all domestic dogs, was descended from the grey wolf (Canis lupus). Depending on the source, you may see dingoes’ scientific names referred to as Canis familiaris dingo or Canis lupus dingo.

While marsupials seem to reign supreme in Australia, the dingo is a placental mammal – meaning this species gives birth to live young, feeds its young milk via mammary glands, and has fur/hair. A dingo’s coat can be a range of colours depending on where in Australia it is found. For example, in forested areas, the fur appears as a dark tan close to black; while in desert areas, the fur appears more golden yellow.

Dingoes inhabit a variety of habitats within mainland Australia but seem to have not spread as far out as Tasmania. The species is also rarely seen in New South Wales, Victoria, the south-eastern third of South Australia or the southern most tip of Western Australia.

In terms of size, dingoes are the largest mammal currently found in the wilds of Australia. The second largest being the red kangaroo.

The three dingo pack of Lone Pine laying together on their habitat platform.
The dingo pack of Lone Pine – Tanami, Jindy, and Stirling. Photo taken by Zoolife community member purplesheepbaa.

Packs of the outback

As opportunistic carnivores, dingoes will eat a wide variety of prey although they have historically preyed mostly on wallabies and kangaroos. They will also eat feral pigs, wombats, rabbits, rodents, and even birds or lizards. When native species are scarce, dingoes have been known to hunt domestic animals and farm livestock leading to farmers having a negative perception of the species. Most infamously, they are believed to be a contributing factor to the extinction of mainland thylacines due to competition for food sources. 

Despite often being seen alone, dingoes are social animals and usually belong to a pack. Strict hierarchies keep the packs in order as the dingoes within it  work together to not only hunt but also raise pups and defend their territory. Typically nocturnal in warmer areas, dingoes will lean more crepuscular (aka active in morning and evenings) in cooler areas

Like all dogs, dingoes lean heavily towards vocal communication. Dingoes use howling to defend their territory and to send warning signals to their pack. Another form of communication utilized is scent-rubbing to mark territorial boundaries.

Two of the dingoes sleeping together on the habitat platform.
Photo taken by Zoolife community member TeaLeaffe.

A changing future

Since their introduction to Australia approximately 4,000 years ago, dingoes have efficiently adapted to a wide variety of habitat types within the continent. Threats to the species, until recently, have not been too widespread – with the exception of some pushing for their eradication due to being considered farming pests. Under the Rural Lands Protection Act, the dingo is subject to government-funded trapping, baiting and hunting bounties. Additional threats exist from private culling, wild dog fencing, and contact with the domestic dog

Today, like many native Australian species, a major threat is habitat loss and human encroachment. Contact with other breeds of domestic dog can lead to disease or dilution of their existing genetics. This has been sparked by the push of urban settlement from coastal areas and into outback Australia which allows for increased interbreeding between the two.

Jindy and Stirling Play Tug-o-War with some meant. Video recorded by Zoolife community member Tealeaffe.

Meeting the Lone Pine pack

With over 90 years of experience working with native Australian species, Lone Pine is dedicated to excellent welfare for dingoes. The sanctuary collaborates with universities, government, students and other reputable organizations, and over the years has contributed to hundreds of wildlife research projects. The Zoolife cameras at Lone Pine feature the three dingoes who call the sanctuary home named Tanami, Jindy, and Stirling. With a range of personalities, they are a delight to see each day.

Want to help support Zoolife’s partners and learn about wildlife conservation from the comfort of your own home? Visit Zoolife today to support them through a Zoolife subscription!

Read more Zoolife blog posts here!

A pandemic tale: watching animals online can improve mental health.

A pandemic tale: watching animals online can improve mental health.

In a time when social gatherings were non-existent and mental health was at an all-time low, online communities created connections. These connections kept friendships alive and fostered new ones – sometimes in even the most unlikely places.

A black lab service dog wearing a vest and holding a gorilla plushie in his mouth.
Foreman, Sinéad’s service dog, joins her for all her adventures at the Toronto Zoo. He can be regularly seen bonding with Charlie through the habitat windows.

2020 was a rough year for all of us, and stress had hit an all-time high across society as we faced so many unknowns. Mental health came front and center as conversations about this topic popped up for many for the first time. Although we all experienced these challenges in many ways, there was one consistent factor; the internet.

The internet provided relief from the outside world as the pandemic hit. In a time when social gatherings were non-existent, online communities created connections. These connections kept friendships alive and fostered new ones – sometimes in even the most unlikely places.

Not only did Zoolife build a way to connect animal lovers with their zoos and each other, but also provided a mental health Sinéad, a Zoolife power user, told us that visiting the gorillas at the Toronto Zoo or watching them live on Zoolife boosts her mental wellness. During the pandemic, Zoolife allowed her to bond with other animal lovers, while watching animals safely from home. Even after reopening, Sinéad uses Zoolife to visit the Toronto Zoo virtually whenever she cannot go in person.

Sinead stopping for a quick selfie with the Toronto Zoo gorilla troop.
Sinéad taking a quick selfie with the Toronto Zoo gorilla troop.

A life-long love for gorillas

Sinéad, a Toronto-based gorilla fan, is one of the most familiar faces on Zoolife. When not at the zoo, she loves to be outside in nature. Sinéad, a very kind and caring person, is also passionate about service dog education, accessibility, and inclusion advocacy.

Known as CharliesPuppy on the platform, Sinéad and her service dog Foreman were regular visitors to the zoo prior to the pandemic closure. Few months after closure, Sinéad saw others posting photos from the gorilla habitat at the Toronto Zoo on Facebook. So she decided to check Zoolife out and immediately became a fan.

Sinéad’s passion for gorillas developed at a young age thanks to her mother. As Sinéad got older, her love for gorillas evolved to finding ways to care for them at the Toronto Zoo. Moreover, she learned how to participate in and support wildlife conservation efforts.

For as long as she can remember, the Toronto Zoo has been part of Sinéad’s life. “Some of my fondest childhood memories,” Sinéad shared “…are of my dad taking my brother and me for picnic dinners on evenings my mum worked late, as well as visiting the zoo with my cousins. We all lived in the neighborhood and had memberships!”

Sinead and her cousin Siobhan sitting next to the outdoor gorilla habitat when they were kids in 2000.
Sinéad and her cousin Siobhan visiting the Toronto Zoo on August 29th, 2000.

Creating new memories online

Those who have had these life-long connections to their local zoos felt the strains the pandemic created. Not only were they unable to financially support their local zoo, but also their mental health was impacted by losing the connection with the animals they are so passionate about.

For Sinéad, her favorite part about Zoolife is “the ability to see our gorilla troop on days I may not be feeling well physically and can’t visit them in person.” The pandemic has been extra isolating for those with pre-existing health conditions or disabilities. Virtual visits to the zoo have helped during this time. Beyond the pandemic-forced closures, virtual alternatives offered a way to stay connected with the local zoo when making trips away for the summer.

“One of my top memorable moments would have to be Charles’ big 50th birthday party!” Sinéad told us. “The Zoo has closed again this past January because of COVID but thanks to Zoolife, I was able to celebrate his big birthday virtually and capture some incredible moments featuring him and his family.” Another favorite experience she has had with Zoolife is when some fellow Zoolife members spotted Sinéad on the cameras and took photos of her posing with Foreman.

Sinéad and Foreman, a black lab service dog, sitting outside the windows for the gorilla troop habitat.
Chelseajohn, another Zoolife community member, captured Sinéad and Foreman enjoying a visit to the gorillas in person.

Watching the gorilla family online, anytime, strengthens the connection with the animals and encourages people to be more proactive about animal welfare. “I wish people knew how much can be learned by being a member,” Sinéad discussed. “Not just from the talks but, from just watching the animals and getting to know their unique personalities and habits and appreciating them.”

Making a difference for wild gorillas

One thing we know for sure is – animal lovers are incredibly passionate about conservation. Sinéad’s love for visiting the gorilla troop extends beyond the Toronto Zoo and into the wild. She loves letting others know that there are simple ways to help gorillas conservation. “A very easy way people can help…”, she explains “is by donating [your] used cell phones to the Toronto Zoo’s Phone Apes Recycling Program!”. Almost all cell phones contain a mineral called coltan.

This mineral is used to create the element tantalum. Tantalum, used in a light weight metal powder form, is able to hold a very high electrical charge. This makes it a vital element in creating the capacitors that control electric flow inside miniature circuit boards. Tantalum capacitors are used in almost all cell phones, laptops as well as other electronics. By recycling your old phone, it is helping to reduce mining of Coltan in the Democratic Republic of Congo where gorillas call home. The money raised from the recycled phones in the Phone Apes program also goes towards projects like Ape Action Africa where they are on the ground caring for orphaned, wounded and sick great apes in Africa.

Charlie, a Western lowland gorilla at the Toronto Zoo, holding a tree branch with leaves while resting in a hammock.
Charlie, a Western lowland gorilla at the Toronto Zoo, enjoying a quick snack of leaves and twigs! For many zoo guests, visiting a zoo even virtually helps

Other ways to support gorillas, Sinéad shares, is by symbolically adopting a gorilla through the Toronto Zoo, being mindful of the products you buy that may affect the gorilla habitats, and simply learning “about these incredibly smart and gentle beings.”

When it comes to general advice, Sinéad says knowledge is power. “Never stop learning! Zoolife is a fantastic way to learn about gorillas as well as many other endangered species! If you know better, you do better.”

Want to help support the Toronto Zoo and learn about wildlife conservation from the comfort of your own home? Visit Zoolife today to support them through a Zoolife subscription!

Read more Zoolife blog posts here!

Coming together for conservation

Coming together for conservation

Conservation issues have presented a major challenge to the world. But, when it comes to conserving wildlife we’re up for the task!

California condors were the first species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Thanks to a breeding program hosted by zoos, including the Santa Barbara Zoo, they have began to recover throughout their range.

New ideas to face growing challenges

Conservation issues have presented a major challenge to the science communication world. The challenge – how can we reach larger audiences to not only introduce more people to threatened animals but also educate them about issues and what they can do to help? While there have been many proposed solutions over the years, Zoolife has become the first to try this through a virtual zoo.

This has not been a small task, of course. It has required us to think outside of the box in more ways than one. Just like The Avengers came together to save the world, we have come together for conservation.

A gorilla peering off a large round rock, with a curious expression on her face.
Johari, a Western lowland gorilla, peering over a ledge in her habitat at the Toronto Zoo. The Toronto Zoo provides 100% landfill free cell phone recycling services to help conserve gorillas and their habitats.

Finding the right partners

Before even thinking about how to grow a community or expand a team, every zoo needs animals – even virtual ones. This is where our partners come in. To ensure responsible animal experiences, Zoolife only partners with fully accredited non-for-profit zoos, sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers who demonstrate the highest standards in animal care. 

This standard has led to us meeting some amazing organizations doing amazing things. One of our partners from this last year, the Santa Barbara Zoo, is a leader in the fight to save California condors. The Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary helps rescue abandoned and unwanted reptiles while educating about their importance. Toronto Zoo, our first partner, is one of the most active organizations for saving our local Blanding’s turtles. But, that’s not all of them – Orana Wildlife Park, Pacific Marine Mammal Center, and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary are fantastic leaders in conservation for the animals they care for.

The unique perspectives, stories, and projects our partners bring to Zoolife set up a wonderful foundation for a virtual conservation product.

A close up photo of an American alligator gazing at the camera while laying on a piece of bright green grass.
Lucy, an American alligator, is one of several rescued reptiles that call the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary home. The Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary is the largest reptile sanctuary in the United States.

Assembling the team

When building a product such as Zoolife, having team members with skills from diverse areas is incredibly valuable. For us, this means having people on the team who have an engineering background, people with marketing experience, and, of course, people who have worked in the zoo and aquarium world. The rounded perspective that all of these fields give a team have allowed us to accomplish great things in just the past year.

One of Zoolife’s latest product updates, closed captioning, increases the accessibility of Zoolife’s expert talks. The ability to switch camera views on some of our habitats gives the chance to see more of an animal’s area. Of course, the feeding time updates on the schedule also give a new perspective to our up-close and personal views of these amazing animals.

But, it isn’t just our team that has made this possible. Our growing community has helped tremendously along the way. 

Three koalas cuddling up and sleeping in a line via a brown tree branch.
These three sleeping koalas are only a handful of animals recently joining Zoolife from the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. As the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary, Lone Pine is dedicated to koala research, welfare, & conservation.

Building a community

You can find someone from every walk of life on Zoolife. There are teachers and students, kids and adults. Some found us through the need for relaxation while others sought out ways to stay connected to their favourite zoos from home. There are even keepers from our partner zoos who use the cameras as a way to monitor the animals while they are away.

Engaging with our community through daily talks and small chatter in the comments has helped us learn a lot about why people enjoy Zoolife. It has also helped identify bugs in record time, as our community provides active feedback for us to improve. 

An Amur leopard with bright yellow fur and large black spots gazes upwards as she is outstretch on a rock ledge.
Marta, an Amur leopard, gazing up at the trees in her habitat at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Born on August 1st, 2021, the Zoolife community has watched Marta grown up via Santa Barbara’s cameras.

Science communication around the clock

Of course, any team for conversation wouldn’t be complete without its educators. Every partner recommends people from their organization who are a good fit for sharing their projects and updates. These people meet with the Zoolife team to learn more about us as well as how to host virtual talks to our community. 

These nature experts, as we call them, also come from all walks of life. Many are volunteers who have dedicated countless years, even decades, in support of their zoo. Others are researchers who have done extensive field work protecting endangered species. Most recently, we have started bringing in outside guests – such as artists, influencers, and more – to show how anyone from any field can make a difference for wildlife conservation.

Two sea lions laying up against a fence with their heads back and eyes closed, bright sun covering their bodies.
California sea lions soaking up the rays at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. The Pacific Marine Mammal Center was the first marine mammal rehabilitation facility in California.

Looking forward to the future

Saving endangered species is a complex issue that requires complex solutions. Although there are many ways of doing this, educating others is a great start. Our partners, hosts, team, and community members coming together for conservation has shown us making a change is possible. We cannot wait to see where we go together in the future. 

A kiwi bird digging around under leaves at night.
A kiwi bird at Orana Wildlife Park searching for grubs in the leaf litter. Orana Wildlife Park is involved in the Recovery Programme for these remarkable birds, breeding for release back into the wild.

Want to help support Zoolife’s partners and learn about wildlife conservation from the comfort of your own home? Visit today to support them through a Zoolife subscription!

Read more Zoolife blog posts here!