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Dingoes ‘wild and distinct’ and are not ‘feral’ domestic dogs

Published:01 January 2019

Dr Bradley Smith pictured with a dingo pup at the launch of his 'Dingo Debate' book in 2015.

More than 20 leading researchers have concluded that Australian dingoes have a classification distinct from all other types of canids and are a distinct wild animal.

They are responding to a recent publication which called for dingoes to be merged taxonomically with ‘domestic dogs’.

The latest study presents evidence on the many different characteristics of dingoes allowing them to be differentiated from modern domestic dogs, feral domestic dogs, and other wild canids such as grey wolves.

It is hoped that widespread acceptance of this latest recommended approach to classifying dingoes will reduce unnecessary tensions among landholders, government agencies, NGOs, and scientists arising from multiple and conflicting definitions of ‘species’, and likely aid in the conservation of the dingo and other species in the long run.

The lead author on the latest study, Dr Bradley Smith of CQUniversity Australia, explains that the scientific status of the Australian dingo has remained contentious, resulting in inconsistency in academic literature and government policy.

He says that the dingo has a distinct and unique evolutionary lineage that diverged some 5 to 10 thousand years ago from other canids, prior to intense agriculture and diversification of modern dogs.

“The dingo has been geographically isolated from all other canids, and genetic mixing has only been occurred recently, and probably driven by human interventions," Dr Smith says.

“Further evidence in support of dingoes being considered a ‘wild type’ capable of surviving in the absence of human intervention and under natural selection is demonstrated by the consistent return of dog-dingo hybrids to a dingo-like canid throughout the Australian mainland and on several islands.

“We have presented scientifically valid arguments to support the ongoing recognition of the dingo as a distinct species (Canis dingo), as was originally proposed by Meyer in 1793.”

Dr Smith says little evidence exists to support the notion that any canid species are interchangeable with dingoes, despite the fact that most canids can successfully interbreed.

“There is no historical evidence of domestication once the dingo arrived in Australia, and the degree of domestication prior to arrival is uncertain and likely to be low, certainly compared to modern domestic dogs.

“We show that dingoes have survived in Australia for thousands of years, subject to the rigours of natural selection, thriving in all terrestrial habitats, and largely in the absence of human intervention or aid.

“This serves as a fitting testament to their definition as a wild, Australian endemic animal. Even if allowance is given to an uncertain and distant past involving some degree of domestication, to label the dingo as a ‘feral domestic dog’, ignores their unique, long and quintessentially wild history.

“The dingo is uncontestably Australian.”