Scientists are totally geeking out over some new pictures that confirm that the New Guinea highland wild dog are alive and well. For decades, these pups were feared to be extinct in their natural habitat on the South Pacific Island. Scientists captured more than 140 pictures last year showing at least 15 wild dogs living in their natural habitat.
The New Guinea highland is known to be the world’s rarest dog. There is some debate in the scientific community as to whether or not they are the same or just close relatives to the famous singing dogs of New Guinea. There is also debate as to whether or not they are also some kind of Australian dingo because genetically they are so similar.
Until these findings, these dogs existed only in captivity. But now, more than 140 pictures were taken last year showing at least 15 wild dogs. The camera-trap pictures captured males, females and pups from three to five months old living in their natural habitat.
While most of the pups are known to have a golden color, some of the dogs pictured were cream, ginger, roan, or black. They also had all different kinds of markings and patterns. They seemed to be thriving in isolation, far from any human contact.
Scientists used hidden dens, scent lures and camera traps to get the photos. They then used DNA samples from their poop (yup!) to confirm their existence. Through DNA testing, it is believed that the New Guinea highland wild dog is among the most primitive canines alive today and it is also believed that it may be a key ancestor of domesticated dogs.
So what does this mean for science? On their website, the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation stated, "The discovery and confirmation of the highland wild dog for the first time in over half a century is not only exciting but an incredible opportunity for science.”
Reports in 2005 and 2012 suggested that the dogs were still living in the area, but there was not enough evidence to confirm this. There was finally some actual evidence in 2016. Last year, Zoologist James K. McIntyre led a group of New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation researchers on an expedition to the Papua Province.
When they arrived to the Papua Province, they met another group of researchers. They were from the University of Papua and they were also eager to see if the dog was still alive. During their adventure, they found something incredible to use as evidence of the dog’s existence...
It was then that the two groups set up cameras throughout the forests of the New Guinea highlands. These cameras recorded more than 140 images of the dogs in just two days on the mountain summit of Puncak Jaya. The pictures were taken up to 15,000 feet above sea level on New Guinea’s remote central mountain spine.
The researchers were able to collect “scat samples” and they will use the samples to learn more about their current lifestyle. There are currently more than 200 of these pups in captivity, but now we know that there are some left in the wild. In the past, when pictures were taken in hopes of proving that the animal was still alive, researchers were later disappointed to find that they were just village or street dogs.
The New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation says that this pooch could be a relic of the canid family. Other members of this family include domestic dogs, wolves, foxes, and jackals. The foundation explains more about the rare species:
“The fossil record indicates the species established itself on the island at least 6,000 years ago, believed to have arrived with human migrants. However, new evidence suggests they may have migrated independently of humans. While the taxonomy and phylogenetic relationships with related breeds and Australian dingoes is currently controversial and under review for both New Guinea singing dogs and highland wild dogs, the scientific and historical importance of the highland wild dog remains critical to understanding canid evolution, canid and human co-evolution and migrations, and human ecology and settlement derived from the study of canids and canid evolution."
In a statement about the findings, the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation said, “Further study is not only key to gauging the health and fitness of the ecosystem these dogs inhabit, but vital to understanding canid and human genetics, co-migration and co-evolution. To unlock the secrets of the Highland Wild Dog is to better understand ourselves and our own story.”