Quirks & Quarks

DNA testing confirms singing dogs aren't extinct in the wild after all

These rare, shy dogs known for their harmonic howls hadn’t been seen in the wild since the 1950’s, but now DNA testing has confirmed their species still thrives.

The rare, shy dogs hadn’t been seen in the wild since the 1950’s

An adult male Highland Wild dog spotted in Indonesia in July 2020. (Anang Dianto/New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation)

New Guinea singing dogs are known for their harmonic howls, similar to a humpback whale. These elusive dogs were believed to be extinct in the wild since the 1970's, but now genetic analysis has confirmed that their species still thrives.

About 200 of these singing dogs live in captivity, descended from just eight dogs that were captured 50 years ago, but they suffer from inbreeding due to the lack of new genetic material.

In 2016, a population of wild dogs was spotted in the mountains of Papua New Guinea, and their resemblance to the captive populations and their unique vocalizations led researchers to believe they may in fact be the same species. In 2018, researchers with the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation returned to collect blood, hair, scat, tissue, and saliva samples from the wild dogs.

Now, DNA analysis co-led by Dr. Heidi Parker at the National Institutes of Health has found that the genome of the wild dogs and the captive New Guinea singing dogs are closely linked, suggesting that the newly discovered population was a group of original wild New Guinea singing dogs. The genetic overlap was not complete but the researchers suspect that can be attributed to the inbreeding in the captive population.

The research was published in the scientific journal PNAS.

Produced and written by Amanda Buckiewicz


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