Springe zum Inhalt

Papuan Dogs – the first companions of man


A. Personal introduction

The island of New Guinea has long remained the last unexplored tropical wilderness on Earth - „a country,“ wrote Alfred Russel Wallace less than 140 years ago, „which no naturalist had ever resided in before, a country which contained more strange and beautiful natural objects than any other part of the globe.“ (WALLACE 1869). Well into the 1930s explorers had only the sketchiest knowledge of what lay behind the coastline. From the decks of passing ships, the spine of the island appeared to be an unbroken cordilliera which ascended into a region of perennial snow - the highest mountain range between the Andes and the Himalayas. Only some meandering, wide river valleys opened gateways further into the interior.

New Guinea became known as the land of stone age tribes and birds of paradise, itself an enormous bird-shaped island perched above the Cape York Peninsula of Australia. Its head almost touching the Equator and its tail dipping down into the Coral Sea. Head and tail were estimated to be as far apart as London and Istanbul, and the belly and folded wings were as wide as France or Spain (SOUTER 1963).

New Guinea was still the world's Last Unknown when I first travelled from Genoa to Sydney in 1959 - almost half a century ago,- on boad the m.s. „Oranje“ of the Stoomvaart Maatshappij Nederland. In those days the planet was still felt being large and diverse in its pristine landscapes and autonomous cultures. The onward sea voyage took 28 days, and my first flight ever, in a roaring QANTAS Superconstellation aircraft, took another 8 hours from Sydney to Port Moresby, the capital of the then Australian- administered eastern half of New Guinea. When the plane descended in the early morning haze, I spotted my first Papuan village in the open Eucayptus forest, with light blue smoke hanging over the thatched roofs.

Since then I have made 20 longer jouneys into the wilderness of the island, including the western half - former Dutch New Guinea, nowadays Indonesian – occupied. Zoological and anthropological exploration, but above all conservation work was my occupation over almost three years in total in the field. The last journey, in 2003 took me to the Raja Ampat Archipelago and to the Gulf of Berau in West Papua.

These extensive jouneys and long stays in villages along the coast, in the foothills and the central highlands gave me an unique opportunity to study native domestic dogs, their regional differentiation and their behaviour. It became soon clear that there existed several distinct varieties of indigenous dogs: they reflected in their appearence both ecological adaptations and cultural history. But it also became evident how much those traditional dogs were endangered by cross-breeding with more recently introduced European dogs. So I collected sample material (BOESSNECK and MEYER-LEMPPENAU 1968) and took  photographs. From the 1966 expedition together with my wife Susanne we even brought a female dog from the Papuan Gulf back to our home near Munich.Two years later I added a male, but sadly it turned out to be sterile (cf. chapter F„Sobi and Nerumu“).

I always had dogs around me, from early childhood days. And again now while writing this book on the island of Thassos in the northern Aegean Sea, my faithful companion is a little dog which I found abandoned on our village square two years ago.

My fascination about Papuan dogs began with the first eight-months expedition to eastern New Guinea of 1959, in the company of nature film pioneer Eugen Schuhmacher. While stopping over at Sydney we had the privilege to meet Sir Edward Hallstrom, founder of Taronga Park Zoo. Sir Edward showed us „his dogs“, the first captured pair of „wild“ dogs from the highlands of New Guinea which was named after him Canis hallstromi, by the curator at the Australian Museum Sydney, Ellis Troughton two years earlier, in 1957. This breed became the only better known Papuan dog: it is being promoted in recent years by the members of the „New Guinea Singing Dog Conservation Society“and the „New Guinea Singing Dog Club of America“.

The other, equally authentic varieties of Papuan dogs, however, were never systematically studied, not even noticed.

So I am presenting herewith the first comprehensive survey and photographic documentation of New Guinea dogs.

I am much indepted to Dr. Barry Craig, Curator of Foreign Ethnography at the South Australian Museum for his unpublished observations in the field.

Kazaviti on Thassos Island

in the northern Aegean Sea

14 September, 2006

Thomas Schultze-Westrum

B. Scientific introduction


When Ellis Troughton described scientifically the first central highland dogs brought to Taronga Park Zoo, he presented them as a new species of wild dog, Canis hallstromi (TROUGHTON 1957). Some relationship with the (feral) Australian Dingo was noted, but no link populations in lower regions of New Guinea indicated. The wild population of Hallstrom's Dog was said to be confined to isolated regions in the New Guinea central mountains, with a possibility of a wider distribution on the island at earlier times ( F1).

Despite of receiving much public attention, the origin and scientific status of Hallstrom's Dog or- as it was named by USA breeders - the New Guinea Singing Dog (NGSD) are wrapped in mystery and contradiction. Hallstrom's Dog according to published references came out of nowhere and had no closer kinship to any domestic dogs: it was promoted as a mysterious wild species that roamed the jungles of the New Guinea central cordilliera and only occasionally was tamed by native tribal people.(F1, F2, F4, F7, F9, F10). Just one quote: „The New Guinea Singing Dog (NGSD) is a wild dog indigenous to the mountains of New Guinea“ (BRISBIN et al. 2001).

By such statements the impression was created as if this dog had never been a domesticated animal that was introduced by man to its present habitat. The opinions of those scientists which considered this dog as an imported ancient domestic stock that had (partly) returned to wild living again (hence classified „feral“) were largely ignored by those promoters believing that the „Singers“ could be more efficiently preserved from extinction if presented as a wild species in its own right (F3, F6, F7)

This manipulation does not make sense, though, in several ways:

  • No animal population can be both wild and feral. It is in fact either the one or the other of these two options. Vage wordings should never conceal the actual scientific evidence, out of what so ever reason (F3, F5, F7, F11, F12).
  • Why should a domesticated dog with an ancient history be less worthwile preserving as compared with a truely wild species?
  • In research papers and Internet web sites the intention becomes evident to point to various characteristics of the highland dogs which they have in common with wild canids, but are absent in ordinary domestic dogs. For instance: the only once a year regular estrus cycle - which is recorded, however, also from other primitive domestic dogs (cf. chapter C). On the other hand some characteristics which are symptoms of domestication are only marginally noted. For instance the frequent appearance of aberrant white fur patches.
  • How can a wild dog species exist in a region which was reached without the assistence of man by only two placental mammalian taxonomic orders: the volatile bats and rodents? (The other native furried animals of New Guinea belong to the order Marsupialia.) Early immigrants brought also the domestic pig to New Guinea; it became feral as well.
  • And how can the original status of the dingo be defined without any evidence of more or less related dogs on the route from South-East Asia to Australia via New Guinea?

In scientific name-giving (nomenclature) there is equal confusion. In recent publications I noted: Canis hallstromi; Canis lupus hallstromi; Canis lupus dingo; Canis lupus familiaris hallstromi (F8).

Always correctly given is the name of the genus only: Canis. The species' name comes second; it should refer to the wild ancestor, the wolf Canis lupus. But J. Clutton-Brock (in MASON 1984) pointed to the fact that Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae of 1758 allocated a distinctive species name for the domestic dog: Canis familiaris. Because breeds of dogs throughout the world are „sufficiently interfertile and sufficiently similiar in their basic characteristics“. The third term in the Linnaean system should provide means to define distinctive geographical sub-species. For instance Canis lupus „pallipes“ for the Indian wolf or Canis lupus „arabs“ for the western Asiatic wolf.

This approach gets us nowhere in clarifying the taxonomic status of dogs, however. So I rather retain the species name lupus also for the domesticated descendents of the wolf and widen the use of the third (sub-species) specification to include indication of domesticated status. Accordingly, domesticated dogs are referred to as Canis lupus familiaris.

In the case of the dingo, this name instead of familiaris is frequently applied.

A forth name can be added by the connecting formula „forma“(f.) for domestic animals: in accordance one can correctly say: Canis lupus familiaris f. papuensis, for the endemic/regional group of dogs which inhabits New Guinea - both Papuan dogs in human custody and feral populations.

There is no provision in the Linnean nomenclature (=taxonomic) system to specify breeds in any way by scientific name appendixes. So it is more convenient and helpful for further classification to add for each separate breed the vernacular (English) name.

As there exist several endemic strains of dogs on New Guinea, the one population that is confined to regions in the central highlands should not be given an isolated status and named the „New Guinea Singing Dog“. Besides, the vocalizations of the other varieties have never been studied , but I can confirm from observations in the field that the voice repertoire as given for the NGSD is not noticeably different from that of other endemic Papuan dogs (cf. chapter E).

I shall use the vernacular name „(New Guinea or Papuan) highland dog“ for the strain originally described as Canis hallstromi and meanwhile known as the NGSD.

Veröffentlicht am Kategorien Gulf of Papua, Papuan Dogs, Rare breeds, Zoological ResearchSchlagwörter , , , ,

Über Thomas Schultze-Westrum

Dr. Thomas Georg Hans SCHULTZE-WESTRUM Author of Scientific and Popular Publications Producer and Director of Documentary Films and Videos Adviser in Nature Conservation and Preservation of Rural Cultures Initiator of Conservation Programmes German national. Born 1937 (Berlin). Classical education at the Benedictine monastery of Ettal in Upper Bavaria. Graduate of Munich University, with degrees in Zoology, Geology and Cultural Anthropology (Ethnology). Scholarship by “Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes”. Research (University of Munich, other scientific institutions) and publications on social and population physiology of marsupials and other vertebrate fauna of New Guinea and the Mediterranean Region, cultural anthropology, conservation and resource management on the village level, mainly in Greece and New Guinea. Author of the books “New Guinea” (Berne 1972) and “Biologie des Friedens” (Biology of Peace), Munich 1974. Dr. Schultze-Westrum has joined for several years the Commissions on Ecology and Environmental Planning of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). He is the founder of the working group (IUCN Commission on Ecology) “Conservation and Traditional Life Styles” 1979; the “ECOCULTURE” Movement 1981; the “Gesellschaft für die Erhaltung alter und gefährdeter Haustierrassen” GEH (Society for the Preservation of Old and Endangered Breeds of Domestic Animals) 1981; and the non-profit-making society “KALLIERGIA”, for traditional agriculture and village conservation in Greece, 1993. As a consultant he has worked for the EU, IUCN, OECD and WWF. As a film maker he has produced, directed and mostly also shot, for German television and international TV networks, 75 documentaries, mainly ecological portraits with emphasis upon the integration of local and traditionally living people into conservation projects. His first film (1974) was about alternative (sustainable) utilization of tropical rainforests in New Guinea, for ZDF. Never Dr. Schultze-Westrum has entered any of his films into an award winning competition, because he is more concerned about the effects of his TV work in actual conservation and public awareness. One of these real awards was the creation of the Marine National Park Alonnisos Northern Sporades in Greece as a result of his film “The Coast of the Monk Seals” in 1976/77 for ZDF (ratings 36 % - shown in 11 countries). His programme “Green Desert”, about traditional water management in the Sultanate of Oman was distributed by the Television Trust for the Environment TVE to 44, mainly Third World, countries. Another leading aspect of his film work was the production of environmental films for the people of the country where he was filming. So, he produced the first TV series of films on ecology, rural life styles and conservation for Greece (in the early 80’s, 14 programmes) and for the Sultanate of Oman (late 80’s, 12 films). His deep interest in ancient human traditions inspired him to produce “Omani Seafaring”, for Oman TV; “Im Kielwasser Sindbads” (In the Wake of Sindbad), for the series Terra X of ZDF; and “Insel der Magier” (Island of the Sorcerers: Waigeo) for ARTE TV. After retiring from TV film production at the end of 2002 he is returning to his earlier scientific work (abandoned in the early 70’s) about the social and population physiology of marsupials ( Petaurus breviceps papuanus and closely related species); village based conservation; the evolution of human communal behaviour and cultural diversity; and the evolution of art styles in the Papuan Gulf province of New Guinea. Since 1992 he is also involved in eco- and agrotourism programmes that are based on his earlier promotion of this alternative “soft” tourism through publications and films, in Greece and West Papua. His conservation activities are continuously focussed on Greece and New Guinea, since 1957 and 1959, respectively. Dr. Schultze-Westrum now is writing up his experiences of many years field work and he is keeping communications alive through his homepage, from the ancient village of Kazaviti on the island of Thassos in the northern Aegean Sea. The conservation and re-activation of outstanding traditional values of Kazaviti stand at the centre of a local museum and documentation centre to be set up in one or even two old Macedonian stone houses.