Writer Favel Parrett, short-listed for this year’s Stella Prize for her third novel There Was Still Love, has been volunteering at the sanctuary twice a week for nearly a year. She is enamoured of dingoes, having learnt about them during a visit a few years ago. More recently, she entered the naming competition for Wandi’s companion, suggesting Waratah. Although the chosen name was Hermione, as runner-up Parrett was invited to meet both Hermione and Wandi; once she did, she didn’t want to leave.
“They’re all really much more gentle than you would think,” she says. “Dingoes are sweet, highly intelligent creatures. One thing I love about them is they really do what they want, you can’t tell them what to do.”
Puppy season at the sanctuary traditionally runs from July until late August, when the public are able to meet dingoes up close. This year that is in question, depending on government rulings around coronavirus. Watson hopes tours, held on weekends, will be allowed, and says social distancing could be observed because of the sanctuary’s size. Aimed at educating visitors and allowing contact with the animals, the tours also represent a significant source of income for what is an entirely voluntary organisation.
Parrett is working on a book about Wandi, pitched at middle-grade students, to be published halfway through next year. The more she learnt about the animals, often dubbed wild dogs and much maligned, the more determined she was to tell their story. “We’re lucky enough to have this beautiful, pure-bred Alpine dingo, who came to us in the most amazing way … He made his way here to us and after DNA testing we know he is a pure-bred dingo, his parents were pure-bred and his grandparents are pure-bred.”
Within the species, there are three types: alpine, desert and tropical, each with slightly different appearances and traits. Wandi’s discovery dispelled the idea that no pure-bred alpine dingoes remain in the wild.
Much like lions, dingoes are apex predators, which may account for why traditionally they have had a bad reputation. Conservationists argue dingoes can help alleviate many of the issues farmers face with pests such as rabbits, kangaroos and foxes.
Parrett is convinced Wandi, now seven months old and thriving, landed safely for a reason: “To be an ambassador for alpine dingoes, because they are incredibly endangered,” she says. “With 50,000 followers on Instagram, he is the most famous dingo in the world – and he sure knows it.”
Wandi’s story is too good not to be told and dingoes are far too precious not to be protected, she says. “I love their hyper-intelligence, their sensitivity, how incredibly beautiful they are. They are that intelligent. Being around them is awe-inspiring; being around them fills me up.”