Expedition rediscovers wild dogs thought to be extinct

The rediscovery of the Highland Wild Dog makes for its first confirmed sighting in more than 50 years.

The Highland Wild Dog (HWD) is the most ancient canid currently living, serving as a sort of “missing link” between the first early canids and the modern domestic dog. HWDs hadn’t been seen since the 1950s, and some researchers feared they had gone extinct from loss of habitat and contamination with nearby village dogs. Two photographs taken in recent years—one in 2005 and the other in 2012—suggested that the dogs might still be around, but remained unconfirmed.

In 2016, the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation (NGHWDF) sponsored an expedition in search of the HWD. They were initially unsuccessful, but then Mac McIntyre, one of the explorers, discovered a fresh dog print in the mud next to one of his footprint. One of the HWD, named Lady Foot and pictured above, had followed the explorers up a hill.

Trail cameras were set up immediately afterward that captured over 140 images of HWDs over the course of two days. The dogs live at altitude on Puncak Jaya, the highest summit of Mount Carstensz, and the tallest island peak in the world.

Fecal samples were collected and DNA tests have shown HWDs are related to dingoes and New Guinea Singing Dogs, although that nature of that relationship has not yet been confirmed.

There is a mine nearby where the HWDs live, but environmental stewardship measures taken by Grasberg Mine and PT Freeport Indonesia have preserved the ecosystem and created an area where the HWDs can thrive. The area is also remote—the nearest village is 16 kilometers away and there are no permanent human settlers on Puncak Jaya.

The NGHWDF is already planning another expedition and further study. They believe that the scientific and historical importance of the HWD “remains critical to understanding canid evolution, canid and human co-evolution and migrations, and human ecology and settlement derived from the study of canids and canid evolution.”

More details and a slideshow of pictures can be found at the NGHWDF website.

Photo credit:New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation (NGHWDF)

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