The New Guinea singing dog was thought to have been extinct in the wild for the past 50 years. The only remaining members of the canine species were the ones that were taken care of in captivity. The dog received its unusual name because of its high-pitched barking sounds and howls that has been described as a “wolf howl with overtones of whale song”.
The New Guinea singing dog looks like a cross between a dingo and a wolf. Its head is on the smaller side with small brown eyes, a flat skull and erect ears that are set far apart. Its neck is strong and thick that goes down to its muscular body with a bushy fox-like tail. Their double-coated fur is normally light or dark brown with patches of white throughout its body and often at the tip of its tail. They can also have black or grey face masks. They’re quite small as they grow between 31-46 centimetres (1-1.5 feet) in height and weigh between 9-14 kilograms (20-31 pounds).
Back in 2016, a group from the University of Papua went to a mountain summit in Papua, Indonesia, called Puncak Jaya and they noticed 15 wild dogs that looked very much like the New Guinea singing dogs. They set up several cameras and were able to catch pictures of adults, pregnant females, and pups.
The group then went back to the location in 2018 and were able to get blood samples from three of the dogs. They compared the DNA samples with those in captivity in order to find out for sure if the Highland Wild Dogs were the predecessors of the singing dogs and their studies seem to confirm that. The New Guinea singing dogs held the title of being the most ancient and rarest dog-like animal in the world, but now the Highland Wild Dogs currently have that title.
“We found that New Guinea singing dogs and the Highland Wild Dogs have very similar genome sequences, much closer to each other than to any other canid known,” explained Heidi Parker, Ph.D., who led the genomic analyses, adding, “In the tree of life, this makes them much more related to each other than modern breeds such as German shepherd or basset hound.”
The team believes that the Highland Wild Dogs have genome sequences that are not present in the New Guinea singing dog, so if they were to breed the two together, it would make a new population for the New Guinea singing dog. Their study can be read here.
The New Guinea singing dogs were originally studied in 1897 and now there are about 300 of them protected in conservations. Elaine Ostrander, Ph.D., NIH Distinguished Investigator and senior author of the paper, described the origins of the species, “The New Guinea singing dog that we know of today is a breed that was basically created by people,” adding, “Eight were brought to the United States from the Highlands of New Guinea and bred with each other to create this group.”
Several of the pictures that the team captured of the New Guinea singing dog can be seen here.