Dingo - Problems in Classification

Problems in Classification

There is no general agreement, scientifically or otherwise, on what the dingo is in a biological sense, since it has been called "wolf", "dingo", "dog" and "wild dog". Even within the scientific community the dingo is given several names. In addition, there is no consensus on whether it is a feral or native animal or what kinds of dogs should be classed as dingoes. Thus some people consider the New Guinea Singing Dog, the Basenji, the Carolina Dog and other dog-populations to be dingoes. Evidence indicates a discord concerning the status of these dogs also. Dingoes have been variously considered to be wild dogs, the progenitor of domestic dogs, the ancestor of modern dog breeds, a separate species, a link between wolf and domestic dog, a primitive canine-species or primitive domestic dog, a "dog-like" relative of wolves or a subspecies of the domestic dog. Others consider them to be native dogs of Asia, a relatively unchanged form of early domestic dog, part wolf and part dog or to have been selectively bred from wolves. Then again, others do not consider them feral any more but completely wild, since they have been living under natural selection for a very long time. According to present scientific consensus and knowledge, they are domestic dogs that arrived at their present distribution with humans, adapted to the respective conditions and are no more "primitive" or "primordial" than other domestic dogs.

The Australian dingo has never been subject to the artificial selection that produced modern dog breeds and that the Australian dingo is an undomesticated descendent of an extinct Asian wolf. However, compared to the European grey wolf, dingoes have an approximately 30% lower relative brain size, reduced facial expressions reduced impressive behaviour, curled tails that can be carried over the back and generally a permanent fertility in males; features that all known domestic dogs share and that are considered to be caused by domestication. It might happen that one and the same source names the dingo as a subspecies of the grey wolf but lists all other domestic dogs as a separate species. Likewise, the scientific name of the dingo might be stated to be Canis lupus dingo, but the dingo regarded as a separate species nonetheless. Alfred Brehm originally considered the dingo to be a separate species, but after examining several different specimens came to the conclusion that they could only be domestic dogs. In contrast, William Jardine considered the dingo to be an entirely separate species, while contemporary French naturalists regarded them as feral dogs. Even among modern day scientists dingoes and other domestic dogs are sometimes considered two separate species, despite proven small genetic, morphological and behavioural differences. The phenomenon of interbreeding between both is then attributed to the statement that all wolf-like species can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. However, breeding experiments in Germany could only prove an unrestricted fertility in the offspring of domestic dogs and grey wolves. Hybrids between domestic dogs and coyotes, respectively domestic dogs and Golden Jackals, had communication problems among each other, as well to the parent species. From the third hybrid-generation on, a decrease in fertility and an increase in genetic damage was observed among the coyote-hybrids and jackal-hybrids. Observations of this kind have never been made for hybrids of dingoes and other domestic dogs, only that dingoes and other domestic dogs can freely interbreed with each other.

The choice of classification can have a direct impact on the dingo. Dingoes officially cease to exist outside of national parks and become unprotected wild dogs. This term itself sometimes only includes dingoes and their hybrids respectively excludes dingoes. Another change of name is that dingoes are "only" feral outside of national parks, with this term having a more negative meaning than the term "wild".

On the other hand, dingoes have been "rehabilitated" in some way, by changing their status from pests to "Australia's native dog" or more subtly, from a subspecies of the domestic dog to that of the grey wolf. The undertone in the Australian press seemed to be that being a grey wolf or an Asian wolf means that the dingo is more "wild" and therefore more desirable than a companion animal (domestic dog). It is possible that the habit of calling the dingo only dog (not wild dog) in colloquial language indicates a kind of familiarity or debasing. In the last case it might be morally easier to kill a dog when it causes problems because it would not have the "high status" of a wolf or dingo. Sometimes, it is considered to be bad that dingoes are domestic dogs, as well as being descended from them and not "directly" from the grey wolf. If the dingo regarded as native, then it is worthy of protection. But if it is considered to be "just" a variant of the domestic dog, it is regarded as a pest and should be eradicated.

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