Researchers believed that for more than half a century, the New Guinea highland wild dog (HWD) had gone extinct from its native habitat, but a recent expedition has found that the ‘ancient’ dogs are not only still alive, but seem to have a thriving population in a remote region of earth. Researchers with the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation (NGHWDF) explored deep into the country’s remote mountain range, a mountainous ‘spine’ that separates the east and the west, where they stumbled upon the wild dogs. The researchers were able to come away with hundreds of photos of “at least 15 wild individuals, including males, females, and pups, thriving in isolation and far from human contact”, wrote Science Alert.
“The 2016 expedition was able to locate, observe, gather documentation and biological samples, and confirm through DNA testing that at least some specimens still exist and thrive in the highlands of New Guinea,” said the research group. “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.” If you’re not familiar with these handsome creatures, until now, New Guinea highland wild dogs were only known from two promising, but unconfirmed photographs in recent years—one taken in 2005, and the other in 2012. As far as dogs go, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more attractive one—their coats are most commonly golden, but there are also black and tan, and cream variants. Their tails are carried high over their backsides in a fish-hook shape like a Shiba Inu.
In all the dogs observed so far, their ears sit erect and triangular on the top of the head. Though it’s yet to be confirmed, the highland wild dogs could make the same unique vocalisations of their captive-bred counterparts—the New Guinea singing dogs. As per the NGHWDF, there are roughly 300 New Guinea singing dogs remaining in the world, living in zoos, private facilities and private homes, and they’re known for their high-pitched howls, which they perform in chorus with one another and sometimes for several minutes at a time.
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They had not been documented with certainty in their native range in over half a century, and experts feared that what was left of the ancient dogs had dwindled to extinction.
While the confirmation of the dog’s existence is exciting, the animal also represents the ‘missing link’ between ancient dog species and our current domestic breeds. The DNA analysis of the dogs revealed that these are the “rarest and most ancient canid currently living. It is our best example of a proto-canid and is truly a living fossil,” wrote NGHWDF. “It is the apex predator of New Guinea and the most important canid in existence. The HWD is the missing link species between the first early canids and the modern domestic dog.” Now that researchers have made this first contact with the highland wild dogs in the wild, future expeditions are being planned to help further study the dogs and assist with conservation efforts.