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History of The New Guinea Singing Dog in North America

First brought to the attention of the scientific community in the early 1950’s, the New Guinea Singing Dog (NGSD) was initially described as a distinct species. It was named Canis hallstromi after Sir Edward Hallstrom. Hallstrom brought the first pair out of the Southern Highlands District of Papua New Guinea and to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia in 1956. 

The NGSD’s precise taxonomic status and phylogenetic relationships are under scientific controversy. Studies, especially DNA analysis, now suggest that NGSD almost certainly differ from modern dog breeds more than those breeds differ from each other. In 2016 and 2017 genetic studies of Australian dingoes and NGSDs verified the NGSD is genetically a dingo.

However they are classified, it is accepted that the NGSD and Australian dingo are the most primitive dogs, brought to the island by humans at least 10,000 years ago. Kept pure due to isolation from other types of dogs until the 1950s, they are like living fossils. Almost all of the NGSDs in North America have descended mainly from the original Taronga Zoo pair. Offspring of this founder pair were widely distributed to zoos in America and Europe.

In 1976 an expedition from the Staatliche Museum Preussischer Kulturbestiz Berlin/Museum fur Volkerkunde obtained five additional NGSDs in Irian Jaya. These were sent to the Domestic Animal Institute in Keil, Germany. A pair from this line went to the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, Kansas, in 1987. Although the male from this pair failed to reproduce, the female, Olga, produced several litters by a Taronga-line male, Dinkum.

Also in 1987, Sheryl Langan imported to Canada a male, Darkie. The Taronga Zoo indicated that Darkie was descended from a “wild-caught” female and a Taronga zoo bred male in the breeding colony at the Baiyer River Sanctuary in Mt. Hagen, Papua New Guinea. Ms. Langan also imported several Taronga females, all of whom reportedly failed to reproduce. In 1994, 14-year-old Darkie was transferred to Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin, Jr., at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia. Even at that advanced age, Darkie was successfully bred to Scratchley, a Dinkum/Olga daughter at Dr. Brisbin’s Swamp Fox Sanctuary. This cross resulted in as much genetic variation as possible for the future of these unique dingoes [see the NGSDCS breeding plan]. The entire captive NGSD population, estimated in 2016 to be less than 300 animals, has thus descended from only eight wild-caught founders.

There have been intermittent reports of wild dogs from Papua New Guinea over the last few years, both from researchers performing studies on a variety of flora and fauna in the high altitude mountains and from the local people.  It would be unwise to remove any wild dogs from their natural habitat until we have a more extensive knowledge of NGSDs in the wild, such as the size and locations of singing dog populations, and any threats to their population stability. Once this information is available, the NGSDCS will collaborate with the NGSDCS of PNG and locals to acquire a few puppies to expand the captive Singer gene pool.

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