New Guinea singing dog
|New Guinea singing dog|
|Scientific classification (unresolved)|
|Subspecies:||C. l. dingo|
|Canis lupus dingo var.
The New Guinea singing dog (also known as the New Guinea dingo, Hallstrom dog, bush dingo, New Guinea wild dog, and singer) is a wild dog once found throughout New Guinea. New Guinea singing dogs are named for their unique vocalization. Little is known about New Guinea singing dogs in their native habitat. There are no confirmed photographs of wild singing dogs. Current genetic research indicates that the ancestors of New Guinea dingoes were probably taken overland through present day China to New Guinea by travelers during pre-Neolithic times.
History and classification
The first singing dog was taken from New Guinea in 1897. At that time many naturalists killed their specimens and studied them later. Such was the case with the first New Guinea dingo, which was shot and killed by Sir William MacGregor on Mount Scratchley at an elevation of 2,133 metres (6,998 ft).
MacGregor sent both the skin and the skeleton, preserved in alcohol, to the Queensland Museum. He described the dog as 11.5 in (29 cm) at the shoulder and primarily black in colour. White markings trimmed the neck, the throat, chest and tip of the tail. In 1911 C.W. DeVis assembled and studied MacGregor's specimen, along with Professor Wood Jones, followed by H.A. Longman in 1928. From 1897 until 1954, this single specimen comprised the scientific community's entire body of knowledge regarding the New Guinea singing dog.
In 1956, Albert Speer and J.P. Sinclair obtained a pair of singing dogs in the Lavanni Valley. The dogs were sent to Sir Edward Hallstrom who had set up a native animal study center in Nondugi, and then on to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia.
There has been considerable controversy regarding the taxonomic classification of New Guinea dingoes. In 1958, Ellis Troughton examined the two Singer specimens from the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. Subsequently, the New Guinea singing dog was classified as a distinct species and was named Canis hallstromi (in honor of Sir Edward Hallstrom). Singing dogs have been reclassified several times and have variously been called Canis lupus hallstromi or Canis familiaris hallstromi. They have been classed as variants of the dingo or domestic dog. They have been called Canis dingo and Canis dingo hallstromi. Most authors class the New Guinea singing dog either as either a separate species or a domestic dog.
The NGSD is not genetically or ecologically exchangeable with any other canid population, and the NGSD is an evolutionarily significant unit. Mammal Species of the World lists these dogs as part of Canis lupus dingo, provisionally separate from Canis lupus familiaris.
Compared to other species in its genus, the New Guinea singing dog is described as relatively short-legged and broad-headed. These dogs have an average shoulder height of 31–46 centimetres (12–18 in) and weigh 9–14 kilograms (20–31 lb). They do not have rear dewclaws.
The limbs and spine of Singers are very flexible, and they can spread their legs sideways to 90°, comparable to the Norwegian Lundehund. They can also rotate their front and hind paws more than domestic dogs, which enables them to climb trees with thick bark or branches that can be reached from the ground; however their climbing skills do not reach the same level as those of the gray fox.
The eyes, which are highly reflective, are almond-shaped and are angled upwards from the inner to outer corners with dark eye rims. Eye color ranges from dark amber to dark-brown. Their eyes exhibit a bright green glow when lights are shone in at them in low light conditions. Researchers believe there are two reasons for the bright reflective glow; not only do the pupils open wider and allow in more light than in other dog breeds, there is also a higher concentration of cells in the tapetum. These two features allow singing dogs to see more clearly in low light, a trait which is unusual in canids.
New Guinea singing dogs have erect, pointed, fur-lined ears. As with other wild dogs, the 'ears' perk or lay forward, which is suspected to be an important survival features for the species. The ears can be rotated like a directional receiver to pick up faint sounds. Singer tails should be bushy, long enough to reach the hock, free of kinks, and have a white tip.
Pups are born with a dark chocolate brown pelt with gold flecks and reddish tinges, which changes to light brown by the age of six weeks. Adult coloration occurs around four months of age. For adult dogs, the colors brown, black and tan have been reported, all with white points. The sides of the neck and zonal stripes behind the scapula are golden. Black and very dark guard hair is generally lightly allocated over the hair of the spine, concentrating on the back of the ears and the surface of the tail over the white tip. The muzzle is always black on young dogs. Generally, all colors have white markings underneath the chin, on the paws, chest and tail tip. About one third also have white markings on the muzzle, face and neck. By 7 years, the black muzzle begins to turn gray.
Flannery’s short 1988 report on dogs in the mountains of Papua New Guinea is regarded as the only available report on direct observation of wild specimens. He described them as "extraordinarily shy" and "almost preternaturally canny". According to Robert Bino (a student from the University of Papua New Guinea) these dogs use their resting places under roots and ledges in New Guinea only sporadically. Bino theorized that these dogs are highly mobile and forage alone and concluded that they therefore might use several hiding places in their home range.
During research observations, the examined dogs generally showed a lower threshold of behavior (e.g. scent rolling) than other domestic dogs, as well as an earlier developmental onset than other domestic dogs or grey wolves (e.g. hackle biting at 2 weeks compared to other domestic dogs/grey wolves at 6 weeks) and a quantitative difference (e.g. reduced expression of intraspecific affiliate behaviors). The dogs observed did not show the typical canid play bow; however, Imke Voth found this behavior during examinations in the 1980s.
Several unique behaviors have been exhibited by New Guinea singing dogs.:
- Head toss: This behavior, shown by every observed dog, is a prompt for attention, food or a sign of frustration, expressed in varying degrees depending on the level of arousal. In the complete expression, the head is swept to one side, nose rotated through a 90° arc to midline, then rapidly returned to the starting position. The entire sequence takes 1–2 seconds. The mildest expression is a slight flick of the head to the side and back. During this behavior, the characteristic contrasting black and white chin markings are displayed.
- Copulatory scream: At the copulatory tie, the female emits a repetitive sequence of loud, high-pitched yelps lasting about 3 minutes. This scream has a strong arousal effect on most domestic dogs.
- Copulatory contractions: About 3 minutes after the start of the tie, females begin a series of rhythmic abdominal contractions. During each contraction, the skin of the flanks and lumbar area is drawn forward. These contractions are accompanied by groans and occur regularly, several seconds apart (they may pause intermittently), continuing for the length of the tie.
- Additionally, Singers have an unusual form of auto-erotic stimulation, which includes a strong tendency to target the genitals for both playful and aggressive bites, a cheek-rub that may be a marking behavior and a tooth-gnashing threat.
During estrus, when potential partners are present, same-sex Singers often fight to the point of severe injury. Furthermore, adults also display a high degree of aggression towards unfamiliar dogs, which would indicate that they are strongly territorial. Their distinctive aggression could not be observed to that extent among Australian dingoes (who live without human contact).
Based on dogs in captivity, it has been theorized[who?] that wild singing dogs do not form permanent packs. All sightings in the wild were of single dogs or pairs and, according to observations by Imke Voth in the 1980s, some dogs are more comfortable in pairs and others in small groups. Researchers have noted rough play behavior by the mothers towards their pups, which often switched over to agonistic behavior, as well as "handling". The mothers did not adequately react to the pup's shouts of pain but rather interpreted it as further "invitation" for "playing". The researchers stated that this behavior was noted in their subjects only and does not necessarily apply to all Singers.
New Guinea singing dogs are named for their distinctive and melodious howl, which is characterized by a sharp increase in pitch at the start and very high frequencies at the end. According to observations made by Ortolani, the howling of these dogs can be clearly differentiated from that of Australian dingoes, and differs significantly from that of grey wolves and coyotes.
An individual howl lasts an average of 3 seconds, but can last as long as 5 seconds. At the start, the frequency rises and stabilizes for the rest of the howling, but normally shows abrupt changes in frequency. Modulations can change quickly every 300–500 milliseconds or every second. Five to eight overtones can generally be distinguished in a spectrographic analysis of the howling.
New Guinea singing dogs sometimes howl together, which is commonly referred to as chorus howling. During chorus howling, one dog starts and others join in shortly afterward. In most cases, chorus howling is well synchronized, and the howls of the group end nearly simultaneously. Spontaneous howling is most common during the morning and evening hours. A trill, with a distinctly "bird-like" character, is emitted during high arousal. It is a high-frequency pulsed signal whose spectral appearance suggests a continuous source that is periodically interrupted, and might last as long as 800 milliseconds. Such a sound is not known for any other canid; however, a similar sound (with lower frequency) has been described for a dhole at the Moscow Zoo. When they are kept with dogs that bark, Singers may mimic the other dogs.
Like other dingo types, female Singers come into heat once a year rather than twice a year normally associated with domestic breeds. Their breeding season generally starts in August and ends during December. Gestation averages 63 days. In Tierpark Berlin, 80% of the litters were born in October and November and the gestation period was 58 to 64 days. The litter size was 1 to 6 pups. Reports of 25 female singers in captivity showed that when they did not conceive during their first annual estrus, about 65% have a second estrus cycle, sometimes even a third, 8–16 weeks later.
Males in captivity often participate in raising the pups, including the regurgitation of food. Female Singers are protective of their young and will aggressively attack their male counterpart if they feel he poses a danger to the puppies. During the first breeding season following their birth, especially if there is a potential mate present, pups are often aggressively attacked by the same-sex parent.
Reports from local sources in Papua New Guinea from the 1970s and the mid-1990s indicate that Singer-like wild dogs found in New Guinea, whether they were pure Singers or hybrids, fed on small to middle-sized marsupials, rodents, birds and fruits. Robert Bino stated that they their prey consisted of cuscuses, wallabies, dwarf cassowaries and other birds. Singers in captivity do not require a specialized diet but they seem to thrive on lean raw meat diets based on poultry, beef, elk, deer, or bison.
The reported habitat of the New Guinea singing dog consists of mountains and swampy mountain regions of Papua New Guinea at an altitude of 2500 to 4700 meters. The main vegetation zones are the mixed forest, beech and mossy forest, sub-alpine coniferous forest and alpine grassland. Based on archaeological, ethnographic, and circumstantial evidence, it can be assumed that Singers were once distributed over the whole of New Guinea and later restricted to the upper mountains. Since there have been no verified sightings of these dogs in Papua New Guinea since the 1970s, these dogs are either rare, or possibly extinct. There were reports of Singers in the Star Mountains until 1976, and in 1989, Tim Flannery was able to take a picture of a black-and-tan dog in a Dokfuma. It is important to note that although Flannery made sightings of dogs, there was no way for him to verify them as pure or hybrid or that they were, in fact NGSD at all. In his 1998 book "Throwim Way Leg", Flannery states that Dokfuma (which he describes as subalpine grassland with the ground being sodden moss, lichens and herbs growing atop a swamp) at 3,200 meters elevation had plenty of singing dogs which could usually be heard at the beginning and end of each day. It is also important to note that the word "plenty" is a subjective term with meaning based on personal opinion with no scientific evidence provided. No count was taken in any scientific manner and no DNA testing has been conducted in order to verify purity. When alone in his campsite one day a group of canines came within several hundred meters of him. Flannery apparently did not have his camera along or ready since he reported no pictures taken. In 1996 Robert Bino undertook a field study of these dogs, but was not able to observe any wild Singers and instead used signs such as scats, paw prints, urine markings and prey remnants to make conclusions about their behavior. No DNA sampling was conducted. There have been reports from local residents that wild dogs have been seen or heard in higher reaches of the mountains. A more recent sighting was the fleeting glimpse of a dog at Lake Tawa in the Kaijende Highlands. Local assistants assured the researchers that the dogs at Lake Tawa were wild-living dogs since there were no villages near that location. It needs to be made clear, however, that "wild-living" does not necessarily mean that canines observed by natives are NGSD. It is possible that they are simply feral domestic dogs or NGSD hybrids.
Relationship with humans
Dr. Alan Wilton, a geneticist and senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales in Australia, has theorized that all of the singing dogs of New Guinea as well as the dingoes in Australia may have sprung from a single pregnant female. Over thousands of years the New Guinea dingoes spread throughout the whole of the island. In highland areas the dogs occasionally kept company with native humans, but more often they lived independently without masters. In the lowland villages they were more apt to take up residence with the many native villagers who inhabited the area. It is from these lowland tribes that we may gain a true understanding of the singing dog's place in among humans. The onset of European culture with their domesticated dogs spelled the beginning of the end for pure New Guinea singing dogs in the lowlands. "Singing Dogs are very gentle and friendly with people, though inclined to be a bit shy with strangers at first," wrote New York owner Phillip Persky. "They are not at all aggressive with people" Sharon McKenzie said. "I've never heard of a case of a Singing Dog biting anyone." "They are notorious escape artists," Mr. Persky reported, "and can climb and jump with cat-like agility, so enclosures have to be secure." They are great diggers and can climb fences as easily as a squirrel. They can get through a space you would not have thought a snake could get through," Sharon laughed. "This is the only breed I know of in which bitches are dominant," Sharon observed. "Bitches really call the shots."
According to reports from the late 1950s and mid-1970s wild dogs believed to be Singers were shy and avoided contact with humans. It was reported in the mid-1970s that the Kalam in the highlands of Papua caught young Singers and raised them as hunting aids but did not breed them. Some of these dogs probably stayed with the Kalam and reproduced. The Eipo tribe kept and bred wild dogs as playmates for their children. Although the majority of the Highland tribes never used village dogs as a food source, it is known that even today they attempt to catch, kill and eat wild dogs. Some local myths mention these dogs as bringers of fire and speech or as the spirits of the deceased. Dog-findings in archaeological sites of New Guinea are rare, mostly consisting of teeth (used as ornaments) and trophy-skulls. One grave has been discovered. The earliest Singer remains was a tooth found in the lowlands. It was estimated to be about 5,500 years old. Findings from the highlands were thought to be of similar age, on a stratigraphical basis, but as of 2001 had not been dated. Since the beginning of the 20th century the inhabitants of the highlands started to keep chickens and Singers had a penchant for poultry. To add to the problem, natives kept other domestic dogs. The crossbred dogs were generally larger in size as well as less of a challenge to train so they tended to be of more value than singing dogs. One might conclude that the relationship between the contemporary New Guineans and their dogs will give information about how they treated the Singers, but modern "Village Dogs" are not genetically representative of pure New Guinea singing dogs.
Origin and taxonomic status
For these dogs an origin in Indonesia or South-East Asia is likely; however, the exact location and date is unknown. Genetic analyses also indicate towards an origin in East Asia. These dogs were most likely brought to Papua New Guinea by humans; the dogs could not have covered the distance between the islands by swimming, since even at lowest sea level the distance would have been too great. Findings indicate that there were dogs about 5,500 years ago, which at least looked similar to the Singers.
As stated earlier there is controversy regarding the origin of New Guinea dingoes. Singers may have been transported to New Guinea as a tamed wild animal to serve as a hunting aid or as human food. There is no proof for domestication and they do not show the characteristic morphological features of domestication. Singers may have developed blood enzymes specific to the breed after arriving in New Guinea or they may have inherited them from a different ancestor than those of modern domestic dogs. While interbreeding between Singers and other domestic dogs has occurred, this does not support their being the same species, since all members of the genus Canis are capable of producing fertile hybrids. Genetically and ecologically the New Guinea singing dog is not replaceable with any other canid-population and the available data indicates that the New Guinea singing dog demonstrates a unique evolutionary entity, possible a sister-taxon of the Australian dingo. Since the Singer has diagnostic characteristics that differentiate it from other members of the genus Canis, the name Canis hallstromi is used to identify it as a distinguishable taxonomic entity inside the genus Canis. Although these hypothoses are based on captive Singers, it is assumed that the described, regarded as unique, characteristics probably could not have developed during captivity. It is further suspected that these dogs would be an example on how dogs looked in the time before domestication and that their keeping by the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea would not fully match the common concept of domestication. In addition the ecological balance between the Singers and their prey is regarded as evidence that these dogs were not domesticated when they arrived on the island. As a further argument against the status of the Singer as a feral domestic dog, Koler-Matznick states that there exist no reports of demographically self-sustaining feral dog populations that are not at least partially dependent on humans. Even in the absence of other large predators, domestic dogs never become totally independent predators.
Kristofer M. Helgen disagreed. He said that these dogs are biologically interesting and deserve further ecological study, but neither molecular nor morphological evidence support the claim for taxonomic status as a separate species, particularly in the light of the morphological plasticity of the domesticated dog.
During genetic analysis regarding the origin of the Australian dingo, the scientists found the mtDNA-type A29 among Australian dingoes, as well as domestic dogs from the islands of South-East Asia, North America, East Asia and New Guinea Singings Dogs. This mtDNA-type fell in a phylogenetic tree of wolf-and dog-types right in the main clade of domestic dog mtDNA-types (70% of the mtDNA-types). Furthermore the Singers had a unique mtDNA-type that differed from A29 by two point mutations: This showed the real possibility of a shared origin with Australian dingoes, as well as a genetic exchange and affiliation with the domestic dog. Are the dingoes of Australia descended from New Guinea singing dogs or the other way around? Since Papua New Guinea and Australia were connected via a land-bridge until 6,000 years ago, traveling from one to the other would have been possible. Further DNA-analysis may show that Thai dingoes are also closely related to New Guinea singing dogs. It has been theorized that Singers and Australian dingoes might demonstrate a genetic line that separated itself from other dogs about 4,600 to 10,800 years ago. As long as nothing contrary was proven, a person has to assume that the current isolation of NGSD from village dogs makes interbreeding/hybridization unlikely.
The most current genetic research was completed by Australian scientist Dr. Alan Wilton from the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences. In all, there were thirty-seven researchers from around the globe who took part in data collection and analysis. News of the study was released to newspapers on 18 March 2010. Research revolved around analysis of 48,000 genome sites found in hundreds of wolves and over a thousand dogs. The overwhelming conclusions showed that genetically, the Australian dingo and the New Guinea singing dog are closely related to each other. In fact, they are so closely related that the Australian dingo database may be used to ascertain purity in singing dog DNA sampling. Additionally, the study concluded that New Guinea singing dog and Australian dingo DNA is unique from all other canidae and is easily identified. They found Australian dingoes and New Guinea singing dogs to be the oldest of the ancient breeds, dating back at least 4,000 years. Singers belong in the Asian group, sharing it with dingo, Chinese Shar-pei, Chow-chow and Akita. This internationally recognized study collated at American universities UCLA and Cornell was published in the science journal Nature.
There was a time when the New Guinea singing dog was not considered worthy of study, since they were considered feral domestic dogs. Nowadays however, archaeozoologists who promote protection of these dogs argue that Singers are a living relic of the earliest dogs and at least a part of the heritage of the people of Papua New Guinea. The Singer is regarded as being worthy of protection, since the captive population is highly inbred and the wild population is probably excluded from several parts of its original distribution area. The Department of Environment and Conservation in New Guinea has announced protection measures.
The importance of the New Guinea dingo lies in its evolutionary age and purity as an evolutionary unit. These facts together with several unique genetic, behavioral, ecological, reproductive and morphological characteristics form the basis for its conservation.
Conservation and preservation
||This section needs additional citations for verification. (November 2011)|
There are two organizations that exist for the sole purpose of conserving and preserving New Guinea singing dogs. The organizations, New Guinea Singing Dog Conservation Society (NGSDCS) and New Guinea Singing Dog International (NGSDI) are both based in the United States.
Hybridization is one of the most serious threats facing the New Guinea dingo. NGD are handicapped, as are many canids such as the Australian dingo, by their susceptibility to being bred by canines other than those of their own kind. This vulnerability has and is still causing a "watering down " of dingo genes needed to maintain purity.
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