Australia's dingo is a unique species, not a kind of wild dog as previously believed, according to a new study that definitively classifies the country's largest land predator.
The research by Australian scientists, published in the Journal ofZoology, resurrected the species name Canis dingo, first adopted in 1793 by Friedrich Meyer, a German naturalist.
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.
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 while the father received a suspended sentence as an accessory. Both were later cleared.
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 biodiversity.