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New ID for Dingoes

Once thought to be feral dogs, dingoes are actually a separate taxon from their domesticated relatives.

By | April 2, 2014

WIKIMEDIA, PERIPITUSDingoes, often thought of as wild dogs, are actually their own group of predator, scientists proclaimed in the Journal of Zoology last week (March 27). “We can also conclusively say that the dingo is a distinctive Australian wild canid or member of the dog family in its own right, separate from dogs and wolves,” coauthor Mathew Crowther of the University of Sydney said in a press release. “The appropriate scientific classification is Canis dingo, as they appear not to be descended from wolves, are distinct from dogs and are not a subspecies.”

Dingoes are thought to have descended from domesticated dogs in East Asia. They were introduced to Australia several thousand years ago and bred in isolation for millenia.

To get a sense of what pure dingoes looked like, compared to dingo-dog hybrids, Crowther and his colleagues examined 69 dingo skulls from museum specimens dating back to at least 1900, along with a handful of skin specimens. Back then, it was unlikely the animals would have bred with domesticated dogs. The researchers established a benchmark for dingo features that differ from those of the typical dog: a wider head, longer snout, and shorter skull height.

Crowther said the proper identification of dingoes has practical applications, because policies in Australia support the conservation of dingoes but the extermination of hybrids. According to Reuters, “the scientists think there are still pure dingoes in parts of Australia, [coauthor Mike Letnic of the University of New South Wales] said, but without having the DNA from these old animals, they cannot be 100 percent sure.”

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