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Papuan Dogs – the first companions of man

A closer look at the highland strain from which the NGSD has descended to the modern world of pets, kennels and kennel clubs:

The discovery of the densely populated highlands of central New Guinea happened only in the 1930s. The wide valleys had been largely stripped of trees in pre-historic times. Only in higher altitudes original moss forest had remained to a larger extent; When I ascended the extinct volcano Mt. Bosavi ( 2.896 meters a.s.l.) our coastal dog Sobi accompanied the party: the jumble of countless roots and low strata of moss-covered shrubs and trees made it very difficult even for little Sobi to squeece through on her way and many times she vanished underground in caverns covered by layers of roots, ferns and other dense vegetation (photo). She was cheerful, though, in her never ending, exciting exploration...but no way any dog could live up there in the forest for longer periods of time without the company of people: it seems impossible!

In the wide, open highland valleys only some patches of forest remained on the bottom and on slopes (photos). And further clearing by ax and fire pushes the limits of forest even higher up. In the wake of this shifting cultivation by the highland Papuans – whose autochthonousagricultural system, on the other hand, was dated as being one of the most ancient such traditions on Earth (cf. the previous chapter) - both in Papua New Guinea and in the Dani region of West Papua, there remained vast areas of abandoned land, covered gradually by a growth of high secondary „alang – alang“ grass.

It is in these anthropogenic grasslands of the Southern Highlands District and in similiar environments further to the east and to the west – right into West Papua – that the highland strain of Papuan dogs found suitable environments for living independent of man – but why part of the population actually converted to a feral way of life remains nevertheless in the dark.

There are several reports referring to „tunnel“-like tracks leading over wide distances through the grassland territories of small packs of dogs (F30). Quite naturally, any larger size groups were not sustainable in this environment of rather narrow tracks through the stiff and high alang-alang. Food supply was limited as there is not much larger prey: rats, wallabies and other, smaller marsupials, feral piglets, reptiles, frogs, ground dwelling birds and their eggs, perhaps also some larger insects. In the Star Mountains a considerable amount of their food is vegetarian (nuts, fruit) or scavenged from other animals, such as leftovers of the harpy eagle's prey (BINO 1996).

The feral dog populations extended further to the natural alpine shrublands and subsequent alpine grasslands in altitudes above 3.000 meters. Again, Barry Craig sent me this report (F29): „In the Star Mountains (central New Guinea) in 1965, we followed dog tracks through the alpine grasslands at 3.300 metres to get from one place to another, rather than try to cut our own trails. And at one stage (before I got up onto the plateau with the rest of the expedition) they shot a wild dog to eat, as they were running out of supplies while waiting for an airdrop of food. Prior to that, the dogs came close to the camp but after that they kept well away. Wisely.“

Feral animals in general are by no means more tame, but can be more easily tamed (again) than true wild individuals of ancestor species. When I was studying the free-ranging populations of goats on Greek islands, I had great difficulties in stalking with the camera the feral goats of Gioura in the Marine Park Northern Sporades, as they were extremely shy (SCHULTZE-WESTRUM 1962). And in the primeval forest of Divjake at the Albanian coast of the Adriatic Sea, it took me five days to get some camera shots of the mysterious cattle roaming unattended in this forest since times immemorial. It was worth the efforts,though, because since this small population became extinct before any reseach about their relationship and habits was undertaken.

It appeared to me then that these animals had some past experience of how man behaves and therefore were able to hide and keep their distance, but also to take their benefit – like those highland dogs did when coming near the camp site of Barry Craig. I wish to mention here also the experiences at Kiel in Germany, with the descendents of highland dogs; they became very tame, and equally so their parents at San Diego zoo being the direct descendents of the original pair at Sydney zoo (SCHULTZ 1968).

Back to the description of locations in the New Guinea highlands: Hallstrom's pair was caught in the Lavani Valley of the Southern Highlands of PNG, on land owned by the Huli (or Huri) - Duna tribe. It is an area of extended anthropomorphic grasslands. Also covered by secondary vegetation (which indicates a relatively long human occupation) is the wider southern part of the Eipomek Valley, where W. Nelke collected 5 specimens in 1976, for the Kiel institute of research in domestic animals (Institut für Haustierkunde). The Eipo dogs were not feral, but acquired from the local people (VOTH 1988).

BRISBIN et al. (1994) reckon that there might be still „pure“ highland dogs to be found at Mt. Giluwe and Mt. Wilhelm in the central highlands of PNG. McIntyre, according to MATZNICK et al. 2000, investigated the region of Mt. Stolle in the western highlands of PNG in 1996. No feral dogs were observed, but tracks, scats and reports by locals indicated their occurrence. In the same area, between 1994 and 1996, BINO (1996) discovered prey remains and resting areas and collected scats for analysis (no results have been published so far). There are also further reports from Star Mountains (F29). During the Australian Carstensz Glaciers Expeditions of 1971 – 1973 (HOPE 1976) wild dogs „were often seen by expedition members, and were particularly common at high altitudes. Two dogs were seen climbing New Zealand Pass in the late afternoon at about 4.300 m, and tracks were seen in snow in the Pass amd on the Northwall. Faeces were widespread, and were seen up to 4.700 m on cliff ledges on the Carstensz Pyramid. Dogs were also seen in the Carstensz Meadow and near Lake Dugundugu. A dog was photographed at the latter locality during a snow storm. Dogs calls were often heard in the afternoon and at night, particularly on the Kemabu Plateau, and dogs moved down to the Carstensz Meadow to raid rubbish dumps at the Ertsberg Mine.“

When making enquiries at the PNG Wildlife Department in 1974 ,I was given this information: at the north-western ridge of Mt. Herbert (which is located north-west of Mt. Wilhelm) many dogs had been observed howling in chorus.

I have no ecological details about the location(s) on Mt. Scratchley, Northern Division of PNG where the 2 specimens now in the Queensland Museum were collected in 1889 and 1918 respectively, in an altitude of 2.300 meters a.s.l. (according to SCHULTZ 1968 – but 800 meters a.s.l. according to another source... ). VIS (1911) classifies them as „wild“ dogs. WOOD – JONES 1929 who examined their skulls, considers them as „a very definite race ... sub-species of Canis familiaris“. These specimens may rather belong to the strain of Papuan dogs which is distributed also in the sub-montane region and studied by us in the foothills of Mt. Bosavi (cf. below). The short neck and other proportions of the Mt. Scratchley dogs do not match NGSD characteristics (KOLER-MATZNICK et al. 2003) but may be in accordance with the dogs we found at Bosavi. Unfortunately, BOESSNECK and MEYER – LEMPPENAU 1969 in their analysis of Bosavi skulls do not refer to the measurements taken by WOOD – JONES 1929 on the Mt. Skratchley specimens. It would be worth undertaking a wider comparative study in this respect. But because I can do the dog research only as a side line and without any institutional support, there is no possibility for me to approach this and related tasks.

A few more words about the great variability of coat colouration (cf. chapter C) in the early generations of captive highland dogs (F14), before the more uniform NGSD breed evolved by human selection, through breeders preferences and kennel club standards: most of the 31 individuals reared (up to 1968) in the Institut für Haustierkunde, Kiel, had a brown coat colouration in different shades and with white markings, on the feet and in the face, but sometimes also a white patch on the neck. 10 were black with white markings (SCHULTZ 1969). There is no evidence that the founder highland dogs (the Hallstrom pair) and their ancestors had been interbred with foreign dogs imported to New Guinea.This great variability of the native highland strain is similiar to that described for the dingo ( cf. the previous chapter). The reader also should note in this context the quote from AUSTEN 1950, referring to the Star Mountains, under „The coastal- lowland strain of Papuan dogs“, further below.

I wish to add some notes by government anthropologist E. W. R. CHINNERY (1928) who refers to dogs of the natives at the upper Waria River (which drains towards the north): These mountain dogs, he says, are short, stocky, densely coated, with short, bushy tails. They are quite different from the dogs of the lowlands.

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.