Dori Edwards, Global Animal 

Thought to be extinct in the wild, the rare, New Guinea singing dog was recently spotted after being unseen for 23 years. A group hiking the Mandala Mountain in West Papua, Indonesia found themselves face to face with what looked like the Australian Dingo’s canine relative in September of this year. 

“We watched it for around 15 minutes as it continued to watch us. It seemed as curious as we were, but not particularly scared or nervous,” described tour guide Tom Hewitt of the encounter with the beige, thick-coated animal. 

There are about 200 domesticated singing dogs in zoos or homes around the world, but they are severely inbred due to the lack of new genes. They resemble the more commonly known Shiba Inu and were thought to no longer exist in their natural habitat. 

National Geographic reports that various experts say the details of the sighting suggest it was in fact the rare species. According to James McIntyre, an independent zoologist who went looking for the dog in 1996, “the dog was seen exactly where it’s known to exist.”

A suspected New Guinea Singing Dog was spotted after 23 years in Indonesia. Photo Credit: Tom Hewitt via National Geographic
A suspected New Guinea Singing Dog was spotted after 23 years in Indonesia. Photo Credit: Tom Hewitt via National Geographic

McIntyre says that after the news of a possible sighting, “those of us in the New Guinea singing dog community are quivering with anticipation.”

Janice Koler-Matznick, head of the U.S.-based New Guinea Singing Dog Conservation Society, is still apprehensive of the matter. She states that the animal’s color has never been seen before in the singing dog, as they are usually a red hue or black and tan. However, “it’s not impossible for that mutation to show up in the wild,” says Koler-Matznick. 

Although she is hesitant to believe, Koler-Matznick is hopeful that the photograph does in fact depict a New Guinea Singing Dog. For years, she has been trying to list the canine as a subspecies with the International Union of Conservation of Nature. Unfortunately, without DNA evidence she has been unsuccessful. 

This designation would allow for Koler-Matznick and other singing dog lovers to advocate for the conservation of the animal, which is one of the most ancient dogs. 

The local New Guinea Tribes hold the singing dogs in high esteem and Koler-Matznick believes they can help her conserve the species. During McIntyre’s expedition in 1996, villagers hung singing dog jaws above their doors in a sign of respect for the canine. Preservation can be instituted by “merely enlisting cooperation of local tribes,” stated Koler-Matznick. 

Koler- Matznick and  Tom Wendt, co-founder of the Washington State-based group New Guinea Singing Dog International, are both planning expeditions in order to camera survey the dogs and possibly enter new genes into the current bloodlines. 

“Here we have a real chance to preserve the remnants of the earliest type of dog,” Koler-Matznick expressed. We hope this beautiful animal can be preserved. As Koler-Matznick says “The singers are like the bonobos of the dog world, they are eerily intuitive.”