Species:New Guinea singing dog (Canis lupus hallstromi))
Favourite food: Natural Balance dog treats
How they got their name: She had her name already when she came to Earth Rangers
Natural behaviours: She might be a little shy, but with enough convincing, you might hear her sing or see her jump
Favourite thing to do at the Earth Rangers Centre: Serenading everyone in the morning with her beautiful song
Here’s what Animal Trainer Lisa has to say about Tari…
Tari, and her brother Koto, sing together every morning at the Earth Rangers Centre, and their voices ring loud and clear throughout the building. If you’re not expecting the sound, it can be a little bit scary. It sounds something like the wind blowing past a drafty door, and can remind you of ghosts and spooky movies! But these howls are just Koto and Tari’s way of greeting another day. We are training Tari and Koto to sing for the public, but Tari is more confident in sharing her singing abilities around people than her brother.
- They look like dingos but with shorter legs
- They are named after their amazing singing skills, but no two dogs sound alike. Each has their own unique voice.
- These dogs live in the mountainous regions on the eastern side of New Guinea, where they make their home in the forests, grasslands and swamps
- It is thought that they came to New Guinea with people as wild dogs. This wildness is what helped them thrive in their new habitat
- They will eat any meal that comes their way, making them opportunistic predators and scavengers
- Mothers will have four or five pups each year
- Conservation status: Vulnerable (IUCN, 2008), due to habitat loss, domestication and lack of research
At first sight, the New Guinea singing dog may not draw much attention—they do, after all, look a lot like the kinds of dogs you might see at the park on a nice day. But looks can be very deceiving! The New Guinea singing dog has some extraordinary adaptations, which help them live in the wild mountainous regions of New Guinea.
These medium-sized dogs are closely related to dingos. They have wide faces and golden brown fur with patches of white on their chests, paws and the tip of their tails. Compared to other dogs of the same size, they have shorter legs with very flexible joints, and paws that can rotate further than those of the domestic dog. These special features allow them to climb steep, rocky slopes and even trees with thick bark or low-lying branches!
Perhaps their most famous characteristics are, of course, their beautiful singing skills. New Guinea singing dogs make a variety of calls ranging from haunting howls to bird-like chirping. Sometimes, they can even sound like a group of whales. New Guinea singing dogs will most often burst out howling during the morning and evening, and each dog has their own unique voice.
New Guinea singing dogs live, you guessed it, on the island of New Guinea. If you are wondering where New Guinea is, bust out your world map. See Australia in the right hand corner? Well New Guinea is the big island right above it! New Guinea is home to unique species of plants and animals.
There has been some evidence that New Guinea singing dogs were once found all over the island. Unfortunately, much of their range has shrunk. Currently, they are found primarily on the upper mountains on the eastern half of New Guinea. These areas are filled with mixed-wood and coniferous forests, alpine grasslands and swamps. These dogs live pretty high up, about 4,700m above sea level where only one other canine species is found, the Ethiopian wolf.
It is really rare to see a New Guinea singing dog in the wild. In fact, there has not been a confirmed sighting in the wild for over 30 years! This lack of sighting isn’t because there aren’t any in the wild; their population is low, but they are definitely still around. They haven’t been seen because it’s nearly impossible to tell if a wild dog is a New Guinea singing dog or a breed mixed from New Guinea singing dogs and domestic dogs. As a result, not a lot is known about these dogs and we have to look at historical evidence to find out their relationship with humans and their environment.
It is believed that New Guinea singing dogs were brought over to the island by people a long time ago, but they didn’t come as pets. They were never fully dependent on people for their survival but were encouraged to stick around to help with hunting. Their wildness helped them adapt really well to their new life in New Guinea. Today, wild New Guinea singing dogs are rather shy and will avoid people. It is believed that the development of human agriculture about 9,000 years ago is probably what pushed these dogs into the mountains.
In the wild, New Guinea singing dogs are scavengers and opportunistic predators, meaning they will happily take advantage of any meal that comes their way. They will eat rodents and birds, like the flightless cassowaries, as well as small- or medium-sized marsupials. They have even been known to steal prey from New Guinea Harpy eagles. If a hunter doesn’t check their traps often enough, the New Guinea singing dog has no problem with taking their catch. They have also been known to snack on fruit every now and then.
Spring-time is the breeding season for New Guinea singing dogs, which happens around August in New Guinea. At this time, things get a little tense. Male dogs will get very hostile towards other males and females towards other females, all for the right to mate. They will defend their territory when they think another dog is trying to steal it and this aggression gets even worse when it’s time to breed. This species of mammal is highly territorial.
Since these animals are so rare in the wild, a lot of what we know about their family life has been learned from watching animals living in captivity, like in zoos. A couple of months after mating, mothers will usually have four or five pups. Their eyes will open after two weeks and their first teeth will come within the first month, much earlier than the dogs you might have at home. The fathers’ job is to care for the pups and their mom, while making sure the whole family stays healthy. This attitude changes once the pups are fully grown. The parents push them to be independent very quickly and it isn’t long before the parents split up as well.
- Vulnerable (IUCN, 2008)
- Some threats include habitat loss, as well as breeding with domestic dogs, but primarily a lack of research threatens their survival
For the most part, biologists haven’t put a lot of effort into studying New Guinea singing dogs because they see them as domestic dogs that have gone wild, or feral. People are hesitant to recognize them as an endangered species until more research has been done, especially research on their genetic distinctiveness from domestic dogs. These dogs are caught in a vicious cycle of being unworthy of further research unless they are believed to be endangered, but they won’t be labelled as endangered until further research is done.
Currently, these dogs are listed as vulnerable. While conservation efforts have been made, some people worry it might be too late. Much of the captive population is inbred, which means that many generations of close relatives have been bred together to keep their species alive. This increases the chances of passing on harmful diseases or conditions to their young. If wild populations are close to domestic dogs, they will sometimes breed with them, which means that there are fewer purebred New Guinea singing dogs in the wild to keep their populations strong.
The case of the New Guinea singing dog is one that shows the importance of creating awareness about wild animals and the impacts people can have on them. By encouraging people to learn about these incredible canines, maybe we can create enough interest in protecting them to finally start the critical research needed to save the New Guinea singing dog.
References: IUCN Red List, Toronto Zoo, Koler-Matznick, Janice et al. “An updated description of the New Guinea singing dog (Canis hallstromi, Troughton 1957). Journal of the Zoological Society of London. 261(2003) 109-118, Corbett, L.K. “Dingo”. Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals and Dogs. IUCN (2004) 223-230, New Guinea Singing Dog Conservation Society