Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Efforts to cull wild dogs in New South Wales, a state on the east coast of Australia, are killing dingoes, according to a new genetic survey.
The survey's findings, published this week in the journal Conservation Genetics, contradict the assumption that there are no more pure dingoes in New South Wales.
For the study, scientists collected and analyzed genetic samples from 783 wild canids in north-eastern NSW. The analysis showed nearly one in four canids in the region are likely pure dingo. Approximately 75 percent of the tested animals were dingo-dominant hybrids, while hybrids with a majority domestic dog gene accounted for just 2 percent of the canids in the region.
"Our study shows that for all intents and purposes, wild dogs and dingoes are one and the same," study co-author Mike Letnic, a professor of ecology and wildlife management at the University of New South Wales, said in a news release.
The state's wild canid management strategy currently classifies wild dogs as pests and sanctions the use of lethal control. But the latest findings suggest those lethal control efforts are mostly killing dingoes, a "native animal" under Australian law and classified as a "vulnerable species" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.
"People are happier about controlling 'wild dogs' because they think they're a negative thing, that they don't have value," said lead study author Kylie Cairns, a geneticist at UNSW. "The term 'wild dogs' is obscuring the fact that when we're using lethal control in NSW, we're just killing dingoes."
According to the study's authors, while there are no active conservation or wildlife management efforts aimed at protecting dingoes, current laws compel public and private landowners to control wild dogs in order to prevent, minimize or eliminate their impact on the land.
"To date, dingo management in NSW has focused on controlling dingoes to protect livestock producers," said Brad Nesbitt, principal investigator of the study and an adjunct research fellow at the University of New England.
It's true that dingoes and dingo-dominant hybrids are a threat to livestock, researchers say, but they hope their findings will inspire a more balanced approach to wildlife management, one that includes protections for a species that has been living in Australia for at least 5,000 years.
"The dingo is subject to this terrible dilemma," said Letnic. "Like the kangaroo, they can be pests -- but that doesn't mean we should wipe them out. With the kangaroo, there is a balance between how we control and try to conserve them. We're worried that with the dingo there's not a great deal of balance -- the emphasis is largely on exterminating them."
The analysis of canid DNA revealed several dingo hotspots where higher densities of pure dingoes live. The researchers suggest conservation efforts focus on protecting populations of dingoes in and around these hotspots.
Researchers hope future studies can offer new insights into the evolutionary history of the dingo, as well as identify the dog population most responsible for the dingo's hybridization -- information that could help conservationists better protect the dingo's genetic stock.