The New Guinea Singing Dog, a dingo-like animal with a unique holling style, believed to be extinct in the wild. But scientists reported Monday that the dogs are based on DNA collected by a fearless and uncertain field researcher.
His analysis, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that dogs are not the only common village dogs who decided to try their possibilities in the wild. The findings not only solve a persistent, though ambiguous puzzle, they can shed light on the complex and still emerging picture of dog dominance in Asia and Oceania.
Claudio Cilero, a conservation biologist at Oxford University conservation biologist and president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said the study confirms the intimacy between Australian and New Guinea dogs, “the most ancient” dog on earth. “
James McIntyre, president and researcher of the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation whose area forces was central to the discovery, first discovered the New Guinea Singing Dogs in the island’s forbidden rugged highlands, which is divided between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, In 1996. He was taking a break from studying crossroad pigs in Vanuatu, but that’s another story. Mr. McIntire has a degree in zoology and education, and has worked as a Bronx Zoo and other zoos, private conservation organizations, and as a high school biology teacher.
Zoos are highly populated by dogs, and some are kept as exotic pets. But for more than half a century they remained elusive in the wild until 2012 when an ecotourism guide photographed wild dogs in the highlands of Indonesia’s Papua province. It was first seen after the 1950s, and was set to work by Mr. McIntyre. He received some funding from a mining company, PT Freeport Indonesia. The company, which has a history of conflict with the local population over environmental and safety issues and a Mukki connection to the Indonesian military, operates a gold mine in the highlands near wild dog eyes. In 2016 they searched for about a month and took 149 photographs of 15 individual dogs.
“Locals called him the Highland Wild Dog,” he said. “New Guinea Singing Dog was a name developed by Caucasian. Because I didn’t know what they were, I called them Highland wild dogs.”
But whether they were actually wild singing dogs considered extinct was the big question. Even singing dogs kept in captivity were a haven for scientists who could not decide whether they were a breed, a species, or a subspecies. Were these wild dogs similar to the captive population? Or had they recently flocked to the village dogs?
In 2018, Mr. McIntire went back to Papua and managed to obtain DNA from two stranded wild dogs, leaving biological samples to be released early, as well as another dog that was found dead. He brought the DNA to researchers, who concluded that Mr. McIntire discovered that the village does not have dogs, but appears to belong to the ancestral line from which the singing dogs descend.
“For decades we have seen that the New Guinea singing dog is extinct in the wild,” said Heidi G. Parker of the National Institutes of Health, who worked with Surini Surabakti and other researchers from Indonesia and other countries on analyzing DNA samples. Mr. McIntire returned.
“They are not extinct,” Dr. Parker said. “They actually still exist in the wild.”
Highland dogs had about 72 percent of their genes with their captive singing cousins. Highland dogs had much higher genetic variation than would be expected for a wild population. In conservation centers, captive dogs descend from all seven or eight wild ancestors.
The 28 percent difference between wild and captive varieties may be from the common ancestor of all dogs brought along with the dogs of the village or brought to Oceania. Captive, inbred dogs have lost a lot of variation to wild dogs.
Their gene conservation centers can help reinvigorate the captive population of a few hundred animals, which are very taboo.
The report’s co-author, NIH’s Ellen Estrander, says the discovery is important to understand more about dog domination. The New Guinea Singing Dog is closely related to the Australian dingo and is also related to Asian dogs that migrated to Oceania with humans 3,500 years ago or more. It may be that the singing dogs diverged from a common ancestor, which later gave rise to breeds like Akita and Sheeba Inu.
“They provide this missing piece that we didn’t really have before,” Dr. Ostrander said.
Laurent Frantz, an evolutionary geneticist at Queen Mary University in London who studies the domestication and development of dogs and was not involved in the research, said the paper makes clear that “these populations have long been a constant.”
But exactly when and where dogs went wild and “what’s wild, what’s domestic” are still thorny questions, which will help address the new data.
Mr. McIntyre completed his work on Vanuatu’s intersex box, though you can find more information on the website of the Southwest Pacific Research Project. They are tied to the purpose because they are highly valued by the Islanders.