New Guinea singing dog
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|New Guinea singing dog|
|Subspecies:||C. l. dingo|
|Canis lupus dingo
The New Guinea Highlands are divided politically between the nation of Papua New Guinea in the east, and the Papua Province of Indonesia in the west. The dog is noted for its unique vocalization. Some experts have referred to it as a wild dog but others disagree. Little is known about New Guinea singing dogs in the wild and there are only two photographs of wild sightings: one taken in 1989 and published by Australian mammalogist Tim Flannery and one taken in August 2012 by wilderness adventure guide, Tom Hewett in the Star Mountains region of West Papua.
- 1 Taxonomy
- 2 Lineage
- 3 Physical description
- 4 Behavior
- 5 Status and distribution
- 6 Relationship with humans
- 7 Conservation and preservation
- 8 References
- 9 External links
In 1897, Charles Walter De Vis collected the first specimen from Mount Scratchley at about 2,400 m elevation and wrote a description of it. In 1956, Albert Speer and J.P. Sinclair obtained a pair of singing dogs in the Lavani Valley that was situated in Southern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. The dogs were sent to Sir Edward Hallstrom who had set up a native animal study center in Nondugi, and from there to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. In 1957, Ellis Troughton examined the two singing dog specimens from the Taronga Zoo and classified them as a distinct species Canis hallstromi in honour of Hallstrom.
Troughton described the type specimen as follows:
Specimens. — Male holotype, female allotype, in possession of Sir Edward Hallstrom at Taronga Zoological Park, Sydney, for eventual lodgment in the collection of the Australian Museum. General characters:Muzzle or rostral region short and narrow in contrast with the remarkable facial or bi-zygomatic width, imparting the strikingly vulpine or fox-like appearance. This comparison is sustained in the narrow body and very short bushy tail which measures little more than one third of the combined head-and-body length, with the width of the brush a fraction under 4 inches (10 cm). The fleshy, softlyfurred, triangulate ears remain erect, though rounded and curved forward in conch-like fashion. Colour (Ridgway) of the head a clear tawny brown; the back a darker russet-brown owing to the admixture of blackish-brown hairs, the darker hairs enclosing a yellowish "saddlemark" somewhat more conspicuous in the female. Outer shoulders and hips clear ochraceous-tawny; tail about tawny-olive brindled above with blackish-brown, tip white; four paws whitish. Underparts a light buffy, a dark mark across the jaw separating the light chin-spot from the pale undersurface. Dimensions of Holotype: Head and body approximately 650 millimetres (26 in); tail exactly 245 millimetres (9.6 in), less brush; heel to longest toe, less nail, 145 millimetres (5.7 in); dew-claw from base to ground, 25 millimetres (0.98 in); ear, length from outer base to tip 75 millimetres (3.0 in), midwidth 40 millimetres (1.6 in); longest vibrissa 52 millimetres (2.0 in); length of head to extremity of sagittal crest 180 millimetres (7.1 in) (approx.) and bi-zygomatic width 100 millimetres (3.9 in); rear molar to incisor 90 millimetres (3.5 in); width across incisors 23 millimetres (0.91 in); height of upper canine 16 millimetres (0.63 in).
In the third edition of Mammal Species of the World published in 2005, the mammalogist W. Christopher Wozencraft listed under the wolf Canis lupus the subspecies Canis lupus dingo with Canis hallstomi included as a taxonomic synonym for Canis lupus dingo. This classification by Wozencraft is hotly debated by zoologists. Janice Koler-Matznick and others disagree with Wozencraft, and believe that Canis hallstromi should not be classified under Canis lupus dingo on the grounds that it has behavioral, morphological and molecular characteristics that are distinct from the wolf.
A haplotype (haploid genotype) is a group of genes in an organism that are inherited together from a single parent. In 2011, a study looked at the maternal lineage through the use of Mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) as a genetic marker of the Australian dingo and the New Guinea Singing Dog. The mDNA haplotype A29, or a haplotype one step away, was found in all of the Australian dingoes and New Guinea Singing Dogs studied, indicating a common female ancestry. In 2012, a study looked at the dingo male lineage using Y chromosome DNA (yDNA) as a genetic marker and found 2 yDNA haplotypes. Haplotype H3 could be found in domestic dogs in East Asia and Northern Europe. Haplotype H60 had not been previously reported but was one step away from haplotype H5 that could be found in East Asian domestic dogs. Only the New Guinea Singing Dog and dingoes from north-eastern Australia showed haplotype H60, which implies a genetic relationship and that the dingo reached Australia from New Guinea.
In 2016, a study compared sequences of the entire mDNA genome and 13 DNA loci of the cell nucleus from dingoes and New Guinea singing dogs and found that there are two distinct populations of dingoes in Australia. The northwestern dingoes were estimated to have diverged 8,300 YBP somewhere in Sahul (a landmass which once included Australia, New Guinea and some surrounding islands), followed by a divergence of the New Guinea singing dog from the southeastern dingoes 7,800 YBP. The New Guinea singing dog then became a distinct but closely related lineage. The lack of fossil evidence from northern Australia and Papua New Guinea could be explained by their tropical climate and acidic soil, as there are generally few fossils found in these regions. These dates suggest that dingoes spread from Papua New Guinea to Australia over the land bridge at least twice. These dates were well before the human Neolithic Expansion through the Malay Peninsula around 5,500 YBP, therefore Neolithic humans were not responsible for bringing the dingo to Australia.
Also in 2016, a literature review found that: "there is no convincing evidence that New Guinea wild-living dogs and some, or all, pre-colonization New Guinea village dogs were distinct forms. Further, there is no definitive evidence that either high altitude wild-living dogs were formerly isolated from other New Guinea canids or that the animals that were the founding members of captive populations of New Guinea Singing Dogs were wild-living animals or the progeny of wild-living animals rather than being born and raised as members of village populations of domestic dogs. We conclude that: (1) at the time of European colonization, wild dogs and most, if not all, village dogs of New Guinea comprised a single though heterogeneous gene pool (2) eventual resolution of the phylogenetic relationships of New Guinea wild dogs will apply equally to all or most of the earliest New Guinea village-based, domesticated, dogs; and (3) there remain places in New Guinea, such as Suabi and neighbouring communities, where the local village-based population of domestic dogs continues to be dominated by individuals whose genetic inheritance can be traced to pre-colonization canid forebears."
Compared with 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 varieties, there is also a higher concentration of cells in the tapetum. These two features would allow singing dogs to see more clearly in low light.
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.
All sightings in the wild were of single dogs or pairs. Some dogs are more comfortable in pairs and others in small groups, but based on singing dogs in captivity it has been inferred that wild singing dogs do not form permanent packs. 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 two 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).
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 pups' 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.
Status and distribution
Status in the wild
Varietal status within IUCN Vulnerable dingo subspecies
As of 2015, since New Guinea singing dogs are, in taxonomic candidates, subspecies or varietals and not at the species level, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) treats of them only as an subset of dingoes, Canis lupus ssp. dingo, so their evident rarity is obscured by dingoes as a whole being "previously. . .listed as Lower Risk/least concern" though "[i]mproved information since then has resulted in the taxon being reassessed as Vulnerable." IUCN does note that "Dingo's [sic] were formerly widespread throughout the world (Corbett 1995) and although populations of wild dogs remain abundant in Australia and other countries, the proportion of pure dingoes is declining through hybridization with domestic dogs." However, "in New Guinea, the Department of Environment and Conservation has indicated that measures will be initiated to protect New Guinea singing dogs (I.L. Brisbin pers. comm.)."
Wild provenance, sightings and distribution
Since 1956, New Guinea singing dogs have been obtained or sighted in the wild chiefly in mountainous terrain around the central segment of the New Guinea Highlands, a major island-extensive East-West running mountain range formation, as the 1956 dogs obtained by Speer and Sinclair (see 'History and classification' section above) were in what's now typically spelled the Lavani Valley slightly to the East, the Star Mountains slightly to the West of center sited reports through 1976. Reports of Kalam people capturing NGSDs in the mid-1970s imply the human tribe's range just off center East on the Northeast mainland coast (see 'Relationship with humans' section below). The 1989 and perhaps later locations of Timothy Flannery's photograph and sightings is not known for purposes of this article, but may be detailed in his 1998 book. A 2007 sighting in the Kaijende Highlands was East of center. The 2012 sighting was near Puncak Mandala slightly to the West, all in the highlands around the range's spine.
The reported habitat of the New Guinea singing dog consists of mountains and swampy mountain regions of Papua New Guinea at an altitude of 2,500 to 4,700 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 until an August, 2012 photograph in the wild, these dogs are now apparently rare.
There were reports of singers in the Star Mountains until 1976, and in the mid-1970s reports of capture and training but not breeding by Kalam people, whose Kalam language is part of the Madang languages in Northeast coastal mainland New Guinea and a bit offshore (see 'Relationship with humans' section below).
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 the 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.
In a 2007 report, 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.
On August 24, 2012, the second known photograph of a New Guinea singing dog in the wild was taken by Tom Hewitt, Director of Adventure Alternative Borneo, in the Jayawijaya Mountains or Star Mountains of Papua Province, Indonesia, Western New Guinea by a trek party returning from Puncak Mandala, at approximately 4,760 m high the highest peak in the Jayawijaya range and second highest freestanding mountain of Oceania, Australasia, New Guinea and Indonesia (though Hewitt himself seems to erroneously say this peak is in the Star Mountains which are adjacent to the Jayawijaya range, and also casually calls the region 'West Papua' rather than Indonesia's Papua Province in the Western geopolitical 'half' of the New Guinea landmasses, while his identification of the peak is quite clear, including its estimated elevation which is distinctive among New Guinea's peaks). In a valley flanked by waterfalls on both sides among approximately 4 km (13,000 ft) high limestone peaks, replete with such flora and fauna as cycads, grasses and blooms of the highlands, cuscuses, possums, tree kangaroos unidentified ground-nesting birds in swamp grass, and a bird-of-paradise species heard but not seen, Hewitt relates that his veteran trek guide called out "dog" four times and pointed to fetch Hewitt and his trek client from their explorations behind large boulders and have them realize that ahead and above the guide and camp cook on a rocky outcrop was a dog, in Hewitt's words "not scared, but. . . genuinely curious. . . as we were of it, and it certainly felt like a rare meeting for both sides. The guides and cook were also surprised.” While the guide had at first approached "quite close", the dog retreated as the party came toward it, though it stayed on the hillside while being photographed for a mutual observation session of about 15 minutes. Hewitt only became fully aware of the importance of his party's sighting and photograph of this dog when he contacted Tom Wendt, New Guinea Singing Dog International (NGSDI)'s founder upon returning home, then regretting that he did not videorecord the encounter. Hewitt and Wendt observe that West Papuan locals report that sightings are rare, and that New Guinea singing dogs have not been domesticated by current human inhabitants of their area.
Captive status and distribution
In 2016, a literature review found that "there is no definitive evidence that...the founding members of captive populations of New Guinea Singing Dogs were wild-living animals or the progeny of wild-living animals rather than being born and raised as members of village populations of domestic dogs."
Pedigreed domestic breed
According to New Guinea Singing Dog International as of 2015, "today. . .we have maybe 40 to 50 Singers in the" out-of-zoo captive (human) breeder-tended "breeding program but 100's [sic] of them in North America that are currently without traced and verified pedigrees", most sourced from zoo stock.
Global zoo list
According to the New Guinea Singing Dog Conservation Society as of 2015, the complete list of zoos around the world where captive New Guinea singing dogs are kept is short relative to most zoo species, highlighting their varietal endangered condition after suspected extinction in the wild, the paucity of the zoo gene pool, and comments by New Guinea Singing Dog International that the pedigree breeder pool is highly inbred and small:
|Cleveland Metroparks Zoo||Cleveland||Ohio||USA|
|Columbian Park Zoo||Lafayette||Indiana||USA|
|Conservators Center||Burlington||North Carolina||USA|
|Exmoor Zoo||Exmoor||North Devon||England|
|Gentleshaw Wildlife Centre||Stafford||Staffordshire||England|
|Gulf Breeze Zoo||Gulf Breeze||Florida||USA|
|Hemker Park & Zoo||Oak township||Minnesota||USA|
|Kansas City Zoo||Kansas City||Missouri||USA|
|Living Desert Zoo||Palm Desert||California||USA|
|Miller Park Zoo||Bloomington||Illinois||USA|
|Nashville Zoo at Grassmere||Nashville||Tennessee||USA|
|Palm Beach Zoo at Dreher Park||West Palm Beach||Florida||USA|
|San Diego Wild Animal Park||Escondido||California||USA|
|San Diego Zoo||San Diego||California||USA|
|Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo||Tampa||Florida||USA|
|Idaho Falls Zoo at Tautphaus Park||Idaho Falls||Idaho||USA|
|Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary||Candy Kitchen||New Mexico||USA|
|Wildlife World Zoo||Litchfield Park||Arizona||USA|
|Zoo Zlín||Zlin||Czech Republic|
|Zoonimal Wild Encounters||Geilenkirchen||Germany|
Relationship with 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.
Conservation and preservation
In the past, the New Guinea singing dog was considered "unworthy" of scientific study, as it was regarded as an insignificant variety of feral domestic dog. However, due to its potential value as a resource for the determination of the process of canid evolution and domestication, particularly in relation to the dingo, as well as several of its unique genetic, behavioral, ecological, reproductive and morphological characteristics, limited research has been undertaken. The New Guinea Department of Environment and Conservation has announced protection measures.
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.
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 founded in 1997 and New Guinea Singing Dog International, a preservation, captive breed, adoption and pet education group. Both are based in the United States.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to New Guinea Singing Dog.|
- NGSD & Dingo Worlds Oldest Dogs
- New Guinea Singing Dog Conservation Society
- New Guinea Singing Dog International
- NGSD Vocalization/Audio-Video Files
- A Singer singing (download of audio-file)