Most of what we know today about the New Guinea Singing Dog (NGSD) comes from captive specimens, which are all descendants from just a few wild New Guinea Singing Dogs that were captured in the 1950s. These animals are so elusive in their native habitat that there are only two confirmed photos of a New Guinea Singing Dog in the wild: one photo taken in 1989 by Australian mammalogist and palaeontologist Tim Flannery, and another in 2012 by Tom Hewitt, director of Adventure Alternative Borneo.
In 1996, James K. (“Mac”) McIntyre, field zoologist and director of the Southwest Pacific Research Foundation, spent three weeks in the New Guinea Highlands and never saw a NGSD — he did, however, hear a howl, collect fecal samples, make plaster casts of tracks and learn of personal accounts from local villagers.
McIntyre will be heading out to New Guinea again in June 2014 for another expedition.
“Attempts to conduct full-scale research studies on the Papua New Guinea side of the island of New Guinea have been hampered by political red tape and a lack of sufficient funding for 20 years,” he says. “The Southwest Pacific Research Foundation has partnered with the University of Papua, and has had a research proposal accepted by the Indonesian Ministry of Research and Technology.” This means that finally a research team will be able to travel to the Star Mountain range in the Eastern Papua Province (West Papua) to find New Guinea Singing Dogs, which McIntyre refers to as Highland Wild Dogs.
McIntyre hopes to examine the wild dogs’ DNA, which he will try to gather from noninvasive hair-trapping techniques. The team will set up rubbing spots with long-range scents and prerecorded NGSD howls, which will attract NGSDs to rub up against and hopefully leave hairs. The DNA will be compared with NGSDs from the captive population, and if the hair is found to be a New Guinea Singing Dog, a return trip will be planned to capture individuals.
McIntyre says that the although isolation has kept the wild NGSD pure in the past, “encroaching villagers, accompanied by their domestic village dogs, threaten their continued genetic purity. Education, scientific captive management, and habitat and species protection are just some of the measures that need to be taken if the NGSD is to survive.”
Cassandra Radcliff is an editor and writer based out of Orange County, Calif. She is the Associate Editor of Dogs in Review magazine. This excerpt from “Call of the Wild” originally appeared in the 2014 Dog World annual magazine.