On the slopes of the highest peak of Oceania still live their wild relatives
Scientists have found that the New Guinea singing dogs (Canis lupus Hallstrom), which for half a century were considered extinct, actually still live in the mountains of Papua New Guinea. The article with the results of their research was published by the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In this respect, they outnumbered all other types of canines, as well as any breed of domestic dog. This suggests that singing dogs are not extinct: their modern population exists in the form of high-altitude wild dogs,” explained Heidi Parker, a researcher at the U.S. National Institute for human genome research (NHGRI) and one of the study’s authors.
Europeans first learned about the unusual dogs that live on the island of New Guinea, in the early 17th century thanks to Portuguese navigators. They noticed that these small dogs did not bark, howl or show other signs of behavior typical of domestic dogs or wolves. Later, these animals became interested in British colonizers, who noted that in the mountains of New Guinea there are “rare wild dogs”.
In the middle of the last century, these animals began to be studied by professional scientists. With the help of locals, they noticed that the sounds made by these animals are unusually melodic. The complex structure of these sounds was similar to that of humpback whale songs. As a result, NewGwynian singing dogs became the subject of fierce scientific debate.
For example, some scientists believe that they should be divided into two separate subspecies – NewGwynian singing and wild mountain dogs, the ancestors of which were ancient domesticated dogs, brought to the island first Homo sapiens. Other researchers believe that these dogs do not exist at all and that they are just feral village dogs, which by the structure of the genome and behavior are not different from modern dogs that live in Papua New Guinea.
Earth’s Rarest Dogs
As Parker and her colleagues note, the situation is complicated by the fact that both breeds lead a very secretive way of life, and wild NewGwynian singing dogs scientists and locals have not seen for more than half a century. Animals that live in kennels and zoos of the island, in the past, had to actively cross with domesticated dogs to save them from extinction. Therefore, the genome cannot be unequivocally known for the origin of these animals.
Two years ago, American geneticists were given the first real opportunity to resolve these disputes. Then Indonesian and NewGwynian naturalists found traces, and then several individuals, presumably mountain wild dogs in the vicinity of the pyramid of Carstens – the highest peak of Oceania.
Having found dogs, which according to the descriptions were very similar to the NewGwynian singing dogs, biologists collected samples of their blood and secretions and asked for help from geneticists. Scientists deciphered the structure of DNA of unknown dogs and compared it with the structure of the genome of NewGwynian singing dogs from kennels, as well as other members of the family of canines.
At the same time, scientists calculated how much in the genomes of all these dogs and their wild relatives were identical segments of DNA. Thanks to this, geneticists can understand how close relatives each other have. The analysis showed that both breeds of NewGwyn dogs are close relatives, and their ancestors belonged to the same species.
On the one hand, it allows us to consider dogs from the slopes of the pyramid of Carstens the last wild NewGvinian singing dogs, which at the same time makes them the rarest breed of dogs on Earth. On the other hand, scientists can now restore the population of these predators by crossing dogs from kennels with their wild relatives. Thanks to this, their gene pool can be cleaned from traces of DNA of their domesticated relatives, protect New Guinean singing dogs from extinction, and estimate the current population size of these animals.