Have you ever heard of the New Guinea Highland Wild Dogs (HWD)? Chances are, most of us haven’t. This is the tale that reveals one of the world’s most mysterious and rare dog breeds, also known as the ancestors of the New Guinea Singing Dog (NGSD).

Adventure in Papua

The story of HWD begins in Papua, Indonesia, in the region known as New Guinea. Researchers from the NGHWDF (National Geographic Highland Wild Dog Foundation) and the University of Cenderawasih embarked on an expedition in 2018. They aimed to uncover the existence and origins of these seldom-seen wild dogs.

HWD samples were collected at the periphery of the Grasberg Mine, one of the world’s largest copper mines. However, capturing HWD was no easy task. The research team had to create a unique capture method to approach and catch these elusive wild dogs. They used attractions such as the scent of coyote gland and skunk essence, as well as the calls of North American coyotes to lure and observe the movements of HWD.

After two weeks of effort, they finally managed to capture two live HWDs and also found one deceased HWD, presumably the victim of a car collision. DNA samples from these three dogs became the key to unraveling their origin.

New Guinea Highland Wild Dogs vs. New Guinea Singing Dogs

At first glance, HWDs may appear similar to the New Guinea Singing Dogs (NGSD), which are already extremely rare. But what makes HWDs so special is the genetic analysis that revealed they are the ancestors of NGSD.

In 2016, previous research revealed that samples from NGSD had the A29 haplotype instead of the A79 haplotype unique to NGSD. The A29 haplotype was also found in HWDs, dingoes, some Asian and Arctic breed dogs, and village dogs.

Perplexing Genetic Traces

Phylogenetic analysis and haplotypes indicate that HWDs form a monophyletic group with 100% bootstrap support. They are separated from all other dog breeds, including NGSDs, dingoes, and purebred dogs. These genetic traces suggest that HWDs have a distinct evolutionary lineage and are the unique origin of the dog populations in Oceania.

Admixture: A Tale of Genetic Blend

Admixture analysis revealed evidence of genetic mixing in HWDs, especially with NGSDs. This suggests that NGSDs originate from HWDs, not from other Oceania dog populations. This mixing may reflect early variation missing from the NGSD population living in captivity.

The Importance of Genetic Diversity

One crucial finding is that HWDs have much higher genetic diversity than NGSDs in captivity. This highlights the importance of preserving genetic diversity in captive populations.

In efforts to preserve NGSDs, the addition of HWDs to the captive population can significantly boost genetic diversity. The presence of even a few individuals from the wild population can have a substantial impact on genetic diversity in the captive population.

Next Steps

Although this research has provided valuable insights into HWDs and NGSDs, there is much more to uncover. Samples from more remote areas in Papua could provide further information about HWD populations and their genetic diversity.

We also need to understand that with each new generation of NGSD born in captivity, the risk of genetic diversity loss increases. Therefore, efforts to preserve NGSDs must continue.


The New Guinea Highland Wild Dogs are some of the most mysterious wild dogs in the world. This research has unveiled them as the ancestors of the New Guinea Singing Dog. This finding provides valuable insight into the importance of preserving genetic diversity in the conservation efforts of rare and endangered species like NGSDs.

While we may not encounter many HWDs in our daily lives, their story serves as a reminder of the incredible biodiversity and the importance of conservation efforts to keep precious species like NGSDs thriving in the wilds of beautiful Papua.


Surbakti, S., Parker, H. G., McIntyre, J. K., Maury, H. K., Cairns, K. M., Selvig, M., … & Ostrander, E. A. (2020). New Guinea highland wild dogs are the original New Guinea singing dogs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(39), 24369-24376.

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