New Guinea, the amazing rediscovery of the world’s rarest and most ancient wild dog

Sulle montagne della Nuova Guinea, grazie alle fototrappole, è stata documentata la presenza di un canide selvatico che si credeva estinto da oltre cinquanta anni.

One of the most fascinating aspects of nature is that, despite we try to classify it according to our logical schemes, it keeps astonishing us. One of the latest surprises is the rediscovery of a wild dog thought to be extinct.

New Guinea highland wild dog
DNA evidence confirmed the relationship between the New Guinea highland wild dog with Australian dingos and the singing dogs of New Guinea © New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation

The ancestor of domesticated dogs

The New Guinea highland wild dog (Canis dingo hallstromi) has been proven to be the most ancient living wild dog. This species is thought to be the ancestors of domesticated dogs and has been feared extinct for more than 50 years.

The dog that defeated extinction

Researchers of the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation (NGHWDF), led by zoologist James K. McIntyre, made an unexpected discovery on the mountains in the Papua Province, New Guinea. In 2016, cameras documented the presence of at least 15 highland wild dogs, including males, female, and cubs, on Mount Puncak Jaya. “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,” the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation said in a statement.

Mount Puncak Jaya New Guinea
The New Guinea highland wild dog has survived by populating the inhospitable mountains in the Papua Province © Paul Q. Warren

A close relative of the singing dog

The species has been rediscovered in the forests and highlands of New Guinea, at about 3,300 to 4,200 metres above sea level, and seems to be a relative or even the same as the singing dog of New Guinea – known for its howling and today exists only in captivity and is threatened by crossbreeding.

The rediscovery of the highland wild dog

The rediscovery of this elusive mammal wasn’t totally unexpected. Between 2005 and 2012 there have been sightings of this species, but haven’t been confirmed by solid evidence. Last year McIntyre and his team, in collaboration with researchers of the University of Papua, found a muddy pawprint as initial evidence. They then installed camera traps in the area that allowed recording more than 140 images of the dogs. Thanks to DNA tests and scat samples, researchers confirmed the relationship of this species with Australian dingos and singing dogs of New Guinea.

Un labrador gioca nella neve
Secondo un recente studio pubblicato sulla rivista Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, i cani sarebbero originari dell’Asia centrale © Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Understanding the evolution of dogs

According to scientists the studies on these dogs could give us a better and more detailed comprehension of these canines. “The fossil record indicates the species established itself on the island at least 6,000 years ago, believed to have arrived with human migrants,” said McInteryre. “However, new evidence suggests they may have migrated independently of humans. The scientific and historical importance of the highland wild dog remains critical to understanding canid and human co-evolution”.

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