Ancestral dingoes arrived in Australia at some time, or times, during the Holocene, heralding a period of long and uneasy coexistence with the human inhabitants of the continent. For the first Australians, dingoes became a valued and integral part of the culture but also exacted diverse social and economic costs. For early Europeans and later arrivals, dingoes were alternately revered for their strength and intelligence or feared and reviled for their attacks on livestock. These disparate views have scarcely changed in 232 years; if anything, the schism in perspectives about the dingo has widened as more has been discovered about this divisive and still enigmatic animal. Here, we show that current arguments about the dingo have deep origins by tracing the history of debate about the taxon’s name, when dingoes arrived in Australia, whether they are native or introduced, the early effects of dingoes on native fauna, and their current impacts as a ‘biodiversity regulator’ and destroyer of livestock. We suggest that some debates concerning the dingo will be resolved when more evidence is gained or new discoveries are made, whereas other debates will progress only when proponents and protagonists are able to agree on a research agenda and on thresholds for interpretation of the results that the agenda produces. Such new evidence, and new collaborative thinking, should provide a more robust underpinning for when, where and how dingoes are conserved and managed in future.

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