Rare "singing" breed, presumed to have been extinct in the wild for 50 years, is now alive. The New Guinea Singing Dog, an exceptionally unusual breed, is best known for its distinctive barks and howls-it is capable of making sounds similar to a humpback whale's cries.
The New Guinea singing dog, an exceptionally unusual breed, is best known for its distinctive barks and howls — it can make harmonic sounds similar to a humpback whale's calls.
Just about 200 captive singing dogs remain in breeding centres or zoos, rescued in the 1970s by the ancestors of a few wild dogs. Owing to the lack of new mutations the species are highly inbred.
Before 2016, when an expedition found and researched 15 wild dogs in the isolated highlands of the western side of New Guinea, known as Papua, in Indonesia, none had been seen in their natural habitat for half a c.
In 2018 a new expedition returned to the study site to gather extensive biological samples to validate if these highland wild dogs are actually the singing dogs' ancestors.
According to studies published Monday in the journal PNAS, a study of DNA derived from blood obtained from three of the dogs revealed they have very similar genomic sequences and are much closer to each other than any other canine.
In 2016 the dogs were rediscovered near the gold and copper mine at Grasberg in Papua, Indonesia.
Although their genomes were not similar, the researchers assumed that the highland dogs were the wild and original New Guinea singing dog population, with the distinction between captive New Guinea singing dogs and physical isolation over many decades.
"They look most related to a population of conservation biology new guinea singing dogs that were descended from eight dogs brought to the United States many, many, many years ago," said Elaine Ostrander, a distinguished investigator at the National Institutes of Health and senior author of the paper.
"The conservation dogs are super inbred; (it) started with eight dogs, and they've been bred to each other, bred to each other, and bred to each other for generations -- so they've lost a lot of genetic diversity."
The highland wild dogs had a genetic disparity of 70 per cent with the captive population, Ostrander said, with the gap expected to represent some of the original variability still absent in the inbred population — a species mostly created by humans.
In 2016, however, the dogs were rediscovered near the gold and copper mine at Grasberg in Papua, where steps to preserve the environment around the mine had unwittingly created a refuge where the wild highland dogs could survive. James McIntyre, a field investigator and member of the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Project, headed the excavation party.
New Guinea is the world's second largest island. The eastern half is Papua New Guinea, while the western half is part of Indonesia and is known as Papua. The dogs were first described after a specimen was found at an altitude of about 2,100 meters in Central Province, Papua New Guinea, in 1897, the study said.
The knees and the skeleton of the singing dog are highly versatile according to the San Diego Zoo — it climbs and leaps like a cat. The zoo said sonograms had showed the unusual wail of this dog is identical to the humpback whale album.
"They are in a branch of a tree together with dingos which suggests that singing dogs and dingos and highland wild dogs split off really early. They're much older in terms of dog development," said Heidi Parker, staff scientist at the National Human Genome Research Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.
"By getting to know these ancient, proto-dogs more, we will learn new facts about modern dog breeds and the history of dog domestication," Ostrander noted in a statement. "After all, so much of what we learn about dogs reflects back on humans."