Dingos are in a class, or at least a species of their own, biologists said.
University of New South Wales (UNSW) biologists, along with colleagues from the University of Sydney, studied how dingos are related to other species of canines, including dogs and wolves. They found the animals are a distinct species.
Canis dingo is the name researchers suggest bringing back for the animal. This was the classification first suggested by German naturalist Friedrich Meyer in 1793.
Dingos first arrived in Australia between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago. They may have evolved from domestic dogs living in eastern Asia. It was not until 1788 that dogs first came to Australia, and the domestic animal was not found in the country in great numbers until the beginning of the 20th Century.
Introduction of dogs into wild areas of Australia led to mating between those animals and dingos. This has made study of the animal difficult.
"[D]ingoes have been subject to isolation, leading to them becoming a unique canid. However, the dingo's [classification] is clouded by hybridization with modern domesticated dogs and confusion about how to distinguish 'pure' dingoes from dingo-dog hybrids," researchers wrote in the study.
Confusion over the correct classification for dingos stems back to the 18th century. Arthur Phillip, who was the first governor of Australia, wrote a paragraph in a journal about dingos, including a single picture. That brief mention was nearly all the information scientists had about dingos before they started to crossbreed en masse with domestic canines.
"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. That's where the benchmark comes in," Mike Letnic of the University of New South Wales told Reuters.
In order to create the benchmark, the researchers studied 69 skin and skull fragments of dingos taken from the wild before the year 1900.
Purebred dingos are believed to have a slim build, weighing between 33 and 44 pounds. The species exhibits pointy ears, a broad nose and bushy tail. No one knows if pure dingos still exist in Australia.
Modern dingos are usually yellow, although this is not true of all the animals. Researchers found members of the species were found with tan, dark and tan, or white fur.
Dingos are protected in many parts of Australia, while feral dogs may be shot for destroying livestock. This study could affect that regulation.
Study into the classification of dingos was detailed in the Journal of Zoology.