OXFORD, England, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- U.K. scientists say genetic evidence revealed the mysterious "Egyptian jackal" is not a jackal at all but a new sub-species of gray wolf.
Researchers at Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit say gray wolves reached Africa about 3 million years ago and spread from there throughout the Northern Hemisphere, ScienceDaily.com reported Monday.
The newly designated wolf, often confused with the golden jackal, is a relative of the Holarctic gray wolf, the Indian wolf and the Himalayan wolf, they say.
"We could hardly believe our own eyes when we found wolf DNA that did not match anything in GenBank," study co-author Eli Rueness of the University of Oslo said.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature does not consider golden jackals as threatened but the newly discovered African wolf may be much more rare.
Researchers say they believe it is a priority for both conservation and science to confirm its habitats and numbers.
"It seems as if the Egyptian jackal is urgently set for a name-change, and its unique status as the only member of the gray wolf complex in Africa suggests that it should be re-named 'the African wolf,'" the IUCN's Claudio Sillero says.