Background The African wolf, for which we herein recognise Canis lupaster Hemprich and Ehrenberg, 1832 (Symbolae Physicae quae ex Itinere Africam Borealem er Asoam Occidentalem Decas Secunda. Berlin, 1833) as the valid species name (we consider the older name Canis anthus Cuvier, 1820 [Le Chacal de Sénégal, Femelle. In: Geoffroy St.-Hilaire E, Cuvier F, editors. Histoire Naturelle des Mammifères Paris, A. Belin, 1820] a nomen dubium), is a medium-sized canid with wolf-like characters. Because of phenotypic similarity, specimens of African wolf have long been assigned to golden jackal (Canis aureus Linnaeus, 1758 [Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, Secundum Classes, Ordines, Genera, Species, cum Characteribus, Differentiis, Synonymis, Locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata, 1758]). Results Here we provide, through rigorous morphological analysis, a species description for this taxonomically overlooked species. Through molecular sequencing we assess its distribution in Africa, which remains uncertain due to confusion regarding possible co-occurrence with the Eurasian golden jackal. Canis lupaster differs from all other Canis spp. including the golden jackal in its cranial morphology, while phylogenetically it shows close affinity to the Holarctic grey wolf (Canis lupus Linnaeus, 1758 [Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, Secundum Classes, Ordines, Genera, Species, cum Characteribus, Differentiis, Synonymis, Locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata, 1758]). All sequences generated during this study clustered with African wolf specimens, consistent with previous data for the species. Conclusions We suggest that the estimated current geographic range of golden jackal in Africa represents the African wolf range. Further research is needed in eastern Egypt, where a hybrid zone between Eurasian golden jackal and African wolf may exist. Our results highlight the need for improved studies of geographic range and population surveys for the taxon, which is classified as ‘least concern’ by the IUCN due to its erroneous identification as golden jackal. As a species exclusively distributed in Africa, investigations of the biology and threats to African wolf are needed.
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