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We thought this rare 'singing' dog was extinct in the wild for 50 years. But it's thriving.

The New Guinea singing dog breed may be reinvigorated; an expedition found 15 wild dogs in the remote highlands of Papua, Indonesia.

We thought this rare 'singing' dog was extinct in the wild for 50 years. But it's thriving.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The New Guinea singing dog, known best for its unique barks and howls, is an extremely rare breed. The "harmonic" sounds it can make have been likened to the calls of a humpback whale. For the past 50 years, experts believed that the breed was extinct in the wild. Currently, only about 200 captive singing dogs live in conservation centers or zoos, all descendants of a handful of wild dogs that were captured in the 1970s. This group of dogs suffers from severe inbreeding due to a lack of new genes. In 2016, however, an expedition identified and analyzed 15 wild dogs in the remote highlands of the western side of New Guinea, known as Papua, in Indonesia, CNN reports.



Two years later, in 2018, a new expedition returned to the same study site in order to determine if those highland wild dogs truly were the predecessors of the singing dogs by collecting detailed biological samples. As per their findings, published in the journal PNAS on Monday, a comparison of DNA extracted from blood samples of three of the dogs suggested that they do indeed have very similar genome sequences. Therefore, they are much more closely linked to each other than any other canine. Though the genomes were not identical, researchers have affirmed that the highland dogs are the wild and original New Guinea singing dog population.



Elaine Ostrander, a distinguished investigator at the National Institutes of Health and the senior author of the paper, stated, "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 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."

According to her, the highland wild dogs had a 70 percent genetic overlap with the captive population. The difference, she said, likely contained some of the original diversity that is now missing in the inbred population, a breed that was mostly manmade.



Now, in addition to studying the dogs further, the researchers hope, through the use of sperm samples, to breed some of the highland wild dogs with the New Guinea singing dogs in order to generate a "true" population of New Guinea singing dogs. "New Guinea singing dogs are rare, they're exotic they have this beautiful harmonic vocalization that you don't find anywhere else in nature so losing that as a species is not a good thing," Ostrander explained. "We don't want to see this [animal] disappear." As per the researcher, this process could even help us understand more about our own pets. She said, "By getting to know these ancient, proto-dogs more, we will learn new facts about modern dog breeds and the history of dog domestication. After all, so much of what we learn about dogs reflects back on humans."



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