- Before: Has this pup just been bred, trained, and autotuned?
- After: No wonder it has its own singing style.
Do you sing in the shower, or when no one’s around?
Imagine doing it in isolation for 6,000 years, or somewhere a 10 day walk followed by a 10 day hike from civilisation. You’d sing your socks off in sweet privacy, and with no critics to hold you back, come up with your own unique sound.
But unlike other established and “niche” musical artists, the New Guinea singing dog hasn’t found its identity yet. Or rather, we haven’t. It looks and sounds like a dog, but its modulated howl sounds like a wail. Of the humpback kind. That’s not the only animal it shares an affinity with.
Canid be true?
Living 3,000km (9,842ft) up in dense Papuan New Guinea cloudforest, with only small mammals, reptiles, and the occasional dwarf cassowary to chomp on, means multiple mutt mingling and epic endurance hunts are off the table. Instead, solo hunting, extreme territoriality and tree-climbing are the order of the day, along with eyes that flash green in low light and greetings via cheek-rub. If you’re approved of.
Sound like another animal?
Indeed, and this is yet another reason why the New Guinea singing dog is both special and confusing.
Primitive or pedigree?
Some experts think it’s the captive-bred version of the New Guinea highland wild dog, following a pair sent to Sydney’s Taronga Zoo in 1957. Whether it’s a variant or not, it’s untouched by human domestication, despite sometimes being used as a “hunting aid”, so it’s probably as close to an ancestral dog as we can get. But without similar dogs to compare it to, we still don’t know much about its origins or identity. For some, it’s descended from the Australian dingo:
and others, vice versa. Or it could be a long-feral version of the domestic village dogs tottering about. Until it’s officially confirmed as a species or subspecies, it won’t enjoy the same conservation protection, and habitat loss is certainly looming over its future.
And, despite its hostility to outsiders, the New Guinea singing dog has been known to crossbreed with said domestic dogs. The females, for instance, let loose a “copulatory scream” during the heights of passion, and this can set off almost any other dog in the area, regardless of species! The risk of hybridisation affects rare wolves too, but at least for this musical mutt, it isn’t completely unwelcome among humans.
Gift from the heavens
Various villages of Papua New Guinea hold the singing dog in high esteem. If it was a particularly successful hunting buddy, it was sometimes given an honorary human burial, with its bones laid to rest in a tree. Its jaws have also been seen hung over doorways out of reverence, and it’s considered a spirit of the mountain or ancestors, bringing the gifts of fire and/or language down to humanity.
If my neighbours had done that, I’d overlook the odd wailing contest.
Latin: Canis hallstromi / Canis lupus dingo / Canis lupus hallstromi / Canis dingo hallstromi. Spin the wheel for a fifth!
What? Dingo-like wild dog known for its musical howls.
Where? Remote mountain forests of Papua New Guinea.
How big? About 42 cm / 17 inches at the shoulder. Females are slightly smaller than males.
Endangered? The IUCN apparently has it listed as “Threatened”, but I couldn’t find it on their brand spanking new website under any of the aliases above.
Probable motto: I don’t follow today’s music.
They look cute. Do they need my help at all?
Since they live in such remote areas it’s difficult to ascertain, but possible interbreeding with local dogs, a shallow gene pool (ick) and habitat loss are the main threats to this musical canine.
The New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation don’t seem to accept donations per se, but they welcome volunteers and admin help.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing:
Crew, Becky. 2012. “First photo of rare, wild New Guinea singing dog in 23 years“. Scientific American.
Dell’Amore, Christine. 2012. “Rare Singing Dog Photographed in New Guinea?” National Geographic.
Koler-Matznick, Janice et al. 2003. “An updated description of the New Guinea singing dog (Canis hallstromi, Troughton 1957)“. Journal of Zoology 261(2):109-118.
Koler-Matznick, Janice et al. 2007. “The New Guinea singing dog: its status and scientific importance“. Australian Mammalogy 29(1):47-56.
“New Guinea singing dog“. No date. New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation.
“Singing dog“. No date. San Diego Zoo.
Worthington, Kerri. 2018. “Dingo relative rediscovered in remote highlands of New Guinea“. Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Featured image credit: “New Guinea Singing Dog Canis dingo hallstromi”, auborddulac © 123RF.com