After decades of doubt, researchers have rediscovered "the world’s rarest wild dog" – the New Guinea highland wild dog (HWD). Who's a good boy?
The discovery came about through recent expeditions by the University of Papua in the mountains of New Guinea. Building on 30 years of work by Dr I Lehr Brisbin of the University of Georgia, they traced the tracks and scat of the wild dogs to make predictions on their whereabouts. They then used hidden dens, scent lures, and camera traps to get photographic documentation. Through DNA sequencing carried out on their poop and other biological samples, the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation say they have confirmed that they still "exist and thrive in the highlands of New Guinea."
Overall, they have gathered hundreds of images of HWDs in the wild, including at least 15 individuals of males, females, and pups. The photographs were taken up to 4,600 meters (15,000 feet) above sea level, along Puncak Jaya on New Guinea’s remote central mountain spine. This makes it the largest and only apex predator on the whole of New Guinea island.
There are over 200 of these pooches in captivity, but there was a lack of evidence to say they were still around in their native wild. Other “potentially credible” observations and photographs have popped up over the years, however many believe that it was simply another subspecies, the New Guinea Singing Dog (NGSD), or a genetically "watered down" version of other strays or village dogs.
This is where the waters get a bit muddy. There’s debate among the scientific community as to whether the HWD is genetically different enough to separate them from the NGSD or even an Australian dingo.
Two pups explore scent lures. New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation
To try and clear up the confusion, the scientists on the project hope to further analyze the HWD’s DNA. The team noted there’s a full scientific publication on its way, so stay tuned.
The New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation say this is a particularly fascinating pooch as the species could be a relic of the canid family (which includes domestic dogs, wolves, foxes, and jackals) from a time before human agriculture and domestication, therefore free from the selective breeding pressures of humans. However, this is also up for debate.
New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation said in a statement: “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.”