New Guinea Singing Dog Natural Habitat

The island of New Guinea is located just north of Australia, close to the Equator and bordered on the eastern side by the Pacific Ocean. New Guinea is the world’s second largest island. 

The island of New Guinea is administratively divided into the independent country Papua New Guinea on the eastern side and the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua on the western half. Numerous tribes still live in the Highlands across the island. Below is a tribesman in ceremonial dress.

Young boy with village dog. Note NGSD traits.
The twin peaks of Mt. Giluwe, the second tallest mountain in Papua New Guinea, known to still have wild Singers

 

In order to truly understand Singers, you must know something of their native environment. They are what they are today because of thousands of years of natural selection that has adapted them to the conditions in the Highlands of New Guinea (NG), the second largest island in the world (only Greenland is larger). The coastal areas of NG have thick tropical jungles, extensive swamps and meandering rivers. Even today there are no roads into the Papua NG Highlands from the southern coast because the mountain escarpments guarding the interior are too steep. There is only one road from the northern coast to the interior.  Access is in general by climbing on foot, plane, or helicopter. The interior of the island is dominated on the southern side by a massive mountain range containing the tallest mountains between the Andes and the Alps. New Guinea even has permanent glaciers left over from the last Ice Age, although they are slowly disappearing. The center of the island on the Papua New Guinea half of the island is dominated by a valley populated by the PNG native peoples. But even today there are hardly any roads and only a few fairly well developed towns.

NGSDCS Papua New Guinea member Mike Wilanguwe and colleagues checking out the grasslands on Mt.Giluwe,where a wild Singer had been reported by local hunters. (Photo: Mike Wilanguwe)  

PNG’s indigenous people have occupied the Highland interior valley floors for at least 50,000 years. Until the 1940’s, few foreigners ventured into the Highlands. When they did, they found a large population of people still living with Stone Age technology, unaware of the outside world, growing yams and other crops in the valleys and hunting in the forests. Until very recently, there was constant warfare between tribes. The fierceness of the tribal people is another reason PNG was little explored until recently.

Because it is situated near the equator, PNG does not have seasons separated by average temperature. Instead, it has “wet” and “dry” seasons and the average temperature depends upon altitude. The lower elevations of the mountains are covered with thick forests of evergreen trees. Rainfall can be as high as 200 inches a year. The mountains rise steeply, so that the tops of the ridges may be only a few yards wide, falling away precipitously on either side. Above the lower elevation warm rain forests there are chilly, mossy cloud forests. In these forests the ground and the trees up to several feet off of the ground are covered in thick, slippery moss, and clouds hug the mountainsides like fog, making everything moist. Above the cloud forest is a deciduous forest zone, then a colder sub-Alpine ecosystem with strange pre-historic looking “trees” and dwarfed vegetation. The highest peaks have alpine grassland habitats. Singers have been reported mostly in the cloud forests and higher, from about 4,500 feet up to about 10,000 feet in elevation. The only other wild species of the genus Canis (which includes dogs, wolves, jackals, coyotes, and dingoes) that naturally lives at that high altitude is the Ethiopian wolf.

Above: Dokfuma in the Star Mountains where wild Singers have been twice sighted by biologists, in 1969 and 1989. Dokfuma means Dog Place in the local language. Photo B. Craig. Below: The only verified photo of a wild Singer, taken by biologist Tim Flannery at Dokfuma in 1989.

New Guinea has many unique animal species. It is famous for its varieties of beautiful Birds of Paradise, long beaked echidnas, tree kangaroos, and cuscus. There are small ground-dwelling kangaroos and wallabies but no kangaroos as large as the big Red and Gray kangaroos of the Australian plains. Since the extinction some 5,000 years ago of the New Guinea Tasmanian wolf, a 40-pound marsupial predator with exceptionally long jaws, Singers have been the only large land predators in PNG. The other predators of note are the lowland crocodiles and pythons, and the huge Harpy eagles that range over the entire island. In the lowlands there are also several species of poisonous snakes.

Mt. Giluwe Creek grasslands. Wild Singers have been reported in this area recently.
A photo of fairly fresh singer scat consisting mostly of cuscus hair. (Both photos: Mike Wilanguwe)

    NGSD Natural Range

New Guinea has 174,850 sq. miles of land area. Only a small fraction of this is inhabited by Singers. They have been sighted from about 8,000 to 15,000 ft. altitude. Perhaps in the past before the human population expanded at lower elevations the Singer range was more extensive.

Singer range map based on elevation. The “Positive” spots are places where Singer sightings have been reported. The one “Negative” is the Torricelli Mountains where despite the presence of tree kangaroo researchers for years have reported no sightings of NGSDs. This may be due to the distance from the higher mountains.
Topographic map showing elevation of mountain ranges of New Guinea measured in meters. (1 meter = 3.3 ft.)
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