The New Guinea highland wild dog was feared extinct in the wild after nearly half a century without a confirmed sighting. But after a pawprint and other possible signs in 2016, researchers set up camera traps in their remote mountain habitat.
What resulted were more than 140 photos showing at least 15 individual wild dogs. Research is ongoing to the genetic relationship between this species and the New Guinea singing dog, a captive-bred variant of the wild dog, as well as the Australian dingo.
Researchers are optimistic about the New Guinea wild dog’s chance of survival, particularly since the local mining companies have already been taking measures to protect the ecosystem around the mining sites in this remote location.
Scientists are crooning over new pictures that confirm the survival of the New Guinea highland wild dog, which until now was feared to be extinct in its natural habitat on the South Pacific island.
Thought to be among the rarest species of canine, the highland wild dogs are either the same as or close relatives of the famous singing dogs of New Guinea, which exist only in captivity.
More than a hundred camera-trap pictures taken in 2016 show at least 15 wild individuals, including males, females, and pups. Though they are most commonly a golden color, some of the dogs are cream, ginger, roan, or black, with different markings and patternings.
DNA evidence suggests that the New Guinea highland wild dog is among the most primitive canines alive today, and it may be a key ancestor of domesticated dogs.
“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 (NGHWDF) says on its website.
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.
Luck came in 2016, when zoologist James K. McIntyre led a group of NGHWDF researchers on an expedition to the Papua Province. There, they came across researchers from the University of Papua, who were also eager to discover signs of the dog’s existence.
The trip delivered some promising initial evidence: a muddy pawprint.
Together, the university team and the NGHWDF deployed camera traps throughout the forests of the New Guinea highlands, roughly between 11,000 and 14,000 feet above sea level.
The trail cameras that they set up recorded more than 140 images of the dogs in just two days on the mountain summit of Puncak Jaya.
In addition to photographic evidence of these rare canines, the researchers observed the dogs first-hand and collected scat samples, which will help scientists better understand the animal’s modern lifestyle and rich history.
This article was first published by National Geographic on 31 Mar 2017.