The New Guinea singing dog was thought to be extinct in the wild, but new genetic research suggests their distinctive howl still echoes in the highlands of the Oceanic islands, reports James Gorman for the New York Times.
Not seen in the wild by scientists since the 1970s, conservation biologists thought the only New Guinea singing dogs left on Earth were the 200 to 300 captive animals residing in zoos and sanctuaries, reports Michael Price for Science.
But anecdotal reports and a pair of photographs suggested a similarly tan-colored, medium-sized wild dog was roaming the mountainous terrain near a gold mine on Papua, the western, Indonesian half of the large island north of Australia.
“The locals called them the highland wild dog,” James McIntyre, president of the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation and co-author of the paper, tells the Times. “The New Guinea singing dog was the name developed by caucasians. Because I didn’t know what they were, I just called them the highland wild dogs.”
The genetic analysis suggests that these highland wild dogs are in fact part of a wild population of New Guinea singing dogs. Crucially, the newly revealed wild population is much more genetically diverse than captive singing dogs, which descended from just eight individuals and are severely inbred, reports Katie Hunt for CNN.
“Assuming these highland wild dogs are the original New Guinea singing dogs, so to speak, that really gives us a fantastic opportunity for conservation biology,” Elaine Ostrander, a geneticist at the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute and co-author of the study, tells Ed Cara of Gizmodo. “It’ll give us a chance to reintroduce the original genetics of these dogs into this conservation population.”