An ancient breed of singing dog that was believed to only exist in captivity has been spotted in the wild for the first time in five decades.
The New Guinea singing dog, known for making harmonic sounds comparable to those made by a humpback whale with its high-pitched barks and howls, was believed to have gone extinct in the wild 50 years ago.
Only around 200 of the extremely rare animals now live in conservation centres or zoos around the world, all of which are the descendants of a few of the wild dogs that were captured in the 1970s. Now, researchers have found a pack of dogs they believe are from the original New Guinea singing dog population.
Scientists first spotted a pack of wild dogs that resembled the New Guinea singing dog in the remote highlands of Papua, Indonesia, a few years ago, and carried out an expedition in 2016 to study 15 of them.
A further expedition saw them returning to the study site in 2018 to collect blood samples from three of the canines – along with demographic, physiological and behavioural data – to confirm whether these highland wild dogs truly were related to the singing dogs.
According to research published yesterday, August 31, in the journal PNAS, a comparison of DNA with that of the captive singing dogs suggested they have very similar genome sequences and are much more closely linked to each other than any other canine.
And while their genome sequences weren’t identical – the highland wild dogs had a 70% genetic overlap with the captive population – the researchers believe the highland dogs are the original New Guinea singing dog population, with the difference down to the severe inbreeding of those in captivity due to a lack of new genes.
‘The conservation dogs are super inbred,’ Elaine Ostrander, senior author of the paper and investigator at the National Institutes of Health, said, as per CNN. ‘[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.’
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.
The researchers now hope it will be possible to breed some of the newly discovered wild dogs with the New Guinea singing dogs to help preserve the original breed by generating a true New Guinea singing dogs population.
‘New Guinea singing dogs are rare,’ Ostrander explained. ‘They’re exotic. They have this beautiful harmonic vocalisation that you don’t find anywhere else in nature, so losing that as a species is not a good thing. We don’t want to see this (animal) disappear.’
Hopefully their research will ensure that won’t happen, and we’ll see a resurgence in the population of the New Guinea singing dog in the future.
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