New pictures that confirm the survival of the New Guinea highland wild dog are exciting scientists and conservationists across the world. Until now, this rare species of canine was feared to be extinct in its natural habitat on the South Pacific island.
DNA evidence suggests that the highland wild dog is among the most primitive canines alive today, and it may be a key ancestor of domesticated dogs. They are close relatives of the famous singing dogs of New Guinea, which exist only in captivity. However, there is some uncertainty as to whether or not they are in fact the same species. Regardless, this is fantastic news for global conservation efforts, particularly in light of the recent WWF study that suggests two-thirds of the world’s wildlife could be lost be 2020.
15 wild individuals photographed
At least 15 wild individuals—males, females, and pups—have been photographed in more than a hundred camera-trap pictures taken in 2016. Interestingly, while they are most commonly a golden colour, some of the dogs are cream, ginger, roan (a mix of coloured and white), or black, with different markings and patternings.
The New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation (NGHWDF) says on its website:
The Highland Wild Dog is one of the rarest and most ancient canids currently living, potentially our best example of a proto-canid and is truly a living fossil.
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.
National Geographic has put together an excellent caption-video on the recent study.
Confirmation of previous evidence
Previous reports in 2005 and 2012 suggested the dogs were still living in their highland homes, but neither was considered to be solid, conclusive evidence.
However, in 2016 zoologist James K. McIntyre led a group of NGHWDF researchers on an expedition to the Papua Province. There, they teamed up with researchers from the University of Papua, who were also eager to discover signs of the dog’s existence.
After the trip delivered some promising initial evidence—in the form of a muddy pawprint—the group deployed camera traps throughout the forests of the New Guinea highlands, roughly between 11,000 and 14,000 feet above sea level.
These trail cameras recorded more than 140 images of the dogs in just two days on the mountain summit of Puncak Jaya. In addition to the photographic evidence, the researchers were lucky enough to observe the dogs first-hand and collected scat samples, which will help them better understand the animal’s rich history and modern lifestyle.
Featured photo: Two highland wild dogs, named White Cheek Girl and Fluffy Tail Girl, were observed travelling this area together on several occasions. Photo: New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation