Singing Dogs of New Guinea are Back, Thank God They Still Exist

We have good news and bad news about animals in the wild. I’m going to start with the former, ‘cause right now we’re in need of more good news.

Alright, so singing dogs of New Guinea had been thought to be extinct in the wild for so long. Thankfully they’re not all gone. New genetic research suggests that the planet still has this species, in the highlands of the Oceanic islands.

The last time singing dogs were seen in the wild was around the 1970s. Until recently, conservation biologists thought that the last remaining New Guinea singing dogs only exist in zoos and sanctuaries (which are around 200 to 300 individuals).

A pair of photographs and informal reports suggested that a medium-sized wild dog with similar tan color was roaming the mountainous terrain near a gold mine on Papua, Indonesia.

President of the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation and co-author of the paper James McIntyre said, “The locals called them the highland wild dog. The New Guinea singing dog was the name developed by caucasians. Because I didn’t know what they were, I just called them the highland wild dogs.”

McIntyre then trekked into the terrain surrounding the Grasberg Mine, one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines. The 2016 expedition resulted in 149 photographs of 15 individual dogs as well as an array of fecal samples.

Based on that observation and expedition, it seemed really likely that those wild dogs were truly New Guinea singing dogs. Unfortunately, the fecal samples didn’t have enough genetic material for a proper analysis.

Just some tan dogs?

New Guinea Singing Dog on a trail. Photo by Patti McNeal Wikimedia Commons

So in 2018, the researchers returned and collected blood samples from three individuals. Those three samples were used to sequence the highland wild dogs’ genomes.

Researchers then compared the dogs’ nuclear DNA with 16 captive New Guinea singing dogs, 25 dingoes as well as more than 1,000 individuals from 161 additional breeds.

Genetic analysis suggests that these highland wild dogs are in fact part of a wild population of New Guinea singing dogs. More importantly, the wild ones are much more genetically diverse than the captive ones, which descended from just eight individuals and are severely inbred.

“Assuming these highland wild dogs are the original New Guinea singing dogs, so to speak, that really gives us a fantastic opportunity for conservation biology,”

It’ll give us a chance to reintroduce the original genetics of these dogs into this conservation population,” said co-author and geneticist at the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute Elaine Ostrander.

Highland wild dogs and the captive singing dogs are close relatives of the Australian dingo. Ostrander said that the genome of the wild singing dogs offers researchers a “missing piece that we didn’t really have before.”

I’m glad that this happened, hopefully the wild dogs thrive and, in the end, not making the species fully extinct.

Bad news from Yangtze River

We’ve read the good news, now let’s move on to the bad news. Since the heading says river, you must be thinking of some aquatic animals right now.

The world’s third longest river is home to 378 known species of fish. Now we’ll know only 377.

Chinese paddlefish, once a common sight in this river, won’t be seen around this vast ecosystem anymore. After over a decade of searching, researchers say that this species disappeared between 2005 and 2010. The last confirmed sighting was in 2003.

Led by Hui Zhang, the recent study in the journal Science of the Total Environment suggests that overfishing and dam construction were the cause of the roughly 200-million-year-old animal’s demise.

Fish biologist Zeb Hogan said, “It’s very sad. It’s a definitive loss of a very unique and extraordinary animal, with no hope of recovery.”

Ancient fish species that’s no more

Chinese paddlefish by จุฑาปกรณ์ ประกอบมี Wikimedia Commons

Psephurus gladius aka the Chinese paddlefish was one of the world’s largest freshwater fish species. It could grow as long as 7 meters (23 feet), weighing up to 450 kilograms (992 pounds). Only a few freshwater fish can grow bigger like sturgeons, alligator gars, and Mekong giant catfish.

This species used their long snouts to sense electrical activity and find their prey while hunting, which is why they were also called the Chinese swordfish (and sometimes the panda of the Yangtze, I don’t know why).

According to Eric Cheung who reported to CNN, the ancient fish species had survived the mass extinction that decimated the dinosaurs and marine reptiles.

They had lived since the Lower Jurassic period but they remained largely unchanged over their centuries’ old existence. Sadly, all that changed within short time because of humans.

In the 1980s, Chinese government listed this species as nationally protected animal. However, it was basically too late because of overfishing that drastically decreased the population in the 1970s.

National Geographic reported that in that decade, there were an average of 25 tons of paddlefish harvested each year. Moreover, the construction of the Gezhouba Dam in 1981 split the population in two, disrupting migration patterns and prevented breeding upstream.

Stephanie Pappas in Live Science stated that this disruption caused the species to become functionally extinct. By 1993, there were not enough of them to reproduce.

After 1995, researchers said that the freshwater species barely held on, meaning that there were a few of them seen in the river. It was around 2005 and 2010 that they disappeared completely.

Preventing the same thing to happen again

Maritime scholar and co-author Qiwei Wei and colleagues last saw paddlefish in 2003. According to National Geographic, a tracking tag was attached to an accidentally captured paddlefish, but they lost signal just within hours for reasons unknown.

Zhang and his team tried to find hope for this species. In 2017 and 2018, they monitored local fish markets. There were 332 species of fish found, but not a single Chinese paddlefish. Additionally, the team didn’t find another 140 species from the sampled ecosystems, most of which are at risk.

“This is the first of these very large freshwater fish to go and many are at risk—the concern is that more will go extinct, but the hope is that we can reverse their decline before it’s too late,” said Hogan.

According to Pappas, there are some ways to ensure the survival of other Yangtze species that are at risk: frequent surveys of the river basin and quicker rescue efforts.

Though things are looking so grim, the future may be bright. China has announced a 10-year commercial fishing ban after the country found an overall decline in its endangered species.

Over 300 zones along the Yangtze River will no longer allow capturing and harvesting native species as an effort to bring back the river’s biodiversity. I really hope this conservation attempt will turn out to be fruitful and I hope the locals there realize how important this is.

 

Sources

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/new-guineas-singing-dogs-found-alive-wild-180975704/ https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/chinese-paddlefish-which-lived-200-million-years-now-extinct-180973938/

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