The research by Australian scientists, published in the Journal of
Zoology, resurrected the species name "Canis dingo", first adopted
in 1793 by Friedrich Meyer, a German naturalist.
"What we've done is describe the dingo more scientifically," Mike
Letnic from the University of New South Wales told Reuters.
The confusion over whether the dingo was a distinct species partly
originated from the previous classification based on a simple
drawing and description in the 18th century journal of Australia's
first governor, Arthur Phillip, without reference to a physical
"When Phillip got home to England he wrote about his adventures and
in that book he wrote one paragraph about the dingo and published a
picture and that was, until now, what science knew of the dingo,"
The team found the physical features that define the dingo are a
slim build, relatively broad head, long snout, pointy ears and bushy
tail, with a weight of 15 to 20 kg (33 to 44 pounds).
To isolate dingoes unlikely to have cross-bred with domestic dogs,
the team tracked 69 skull and skin specimens pre-dating 1900 in
museums and archaeological sites in Europe, Australia and America to
create a benchmark description.
"What we did was say this is what dingoes look like before 1900 and
that's what a dingo looks like because there were not very many dogs
around," Letnic said. "That's where the benchmark comes in."
Dingoes were introduced to Australia around 3,000 to 5,000 years
ago, with genetic evidence suggesting they originated from East
Asian domestic dogs. They bred in isolation until the arrival of
dogs accompanying European settlers from 1788.
The scientists think there are still pure dingoes in parts of
Australia, Letnic said, but without having the DNA from these old
animals, they cannot be 100 percent sure.
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Distinguishing pure dingoes from those mixed with feral dogs is an
important issue as some parts of Australia support the conservation
of dingoes but the extermination of "dingo dogs" that are seen as
pests by farmers because they kill livestock.
Dingo behavior was at the center of one of Australia's longest-lived
legal mysteries, resolved in 2012 by a coroner's finding that one of
the animals had carried off an infant, Azaria Chamberlain, from a
tent in the outback in 1980.
The body was never found, and although her parents always maintained
she had been taken by a dingo, the mother was jailed for three years
over the death before being cleared, while the father received a
suspended sentence as an accessory.
Dingoes play a vital role by regulating populations of animals such
as kangaroos, wallabies and invasive red foxes.
The scientists hope a better understanding of dingo numbers based on
the clearer identification will help determine their place in
"What our research shows is dingoes are not just yellow," Letnic
said. "A lot of people think if it's black it can't be a dingo and
(Editing by John O'Callaghan and Clarence Fernandez)
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