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Science
THE NEW GUINEA SINGING DOG
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Andrew Luck-Baker goes in search of the first domestic dog
Tuesday 26th April 2005 11.00-11.30am

Is a small melodious dog from the highest peaks of New Guinea island our best chance to look back in time to Stone Age human's first best friend?


A New Guinea Singing Dog
Pan, A New Guinea Singing Dog
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New Guinea Singing Dogs are small red dogs from the remote highland forests of New Guinea, where they live alongside exotic creatures such as birds of paradise, tree kangaroos and cassowaries.

They were discovered by western science in the 1950s and were last seen in the wild by researchers in 1991, but from time to time they are still heard singing in the forested mountains by locals.

For many years, experts have argued about the origins of the singing dog. Some believe it is a relict of the first dog which bonded with prehistoric humans thousands of years ago? Others say it is just an ordinary feral village mongrel?

Nowadays, the largest population of singers (about 150) lives in the United States, where they are mostly kept as domestic pets.

Singers do have several characteristics that mark them out as different from other dogs, both domestic and wild.

These include some of the sounds they make including eerie song-like howls and bird-like trilling noises, and their habit of climbing up trees in pursuit of squirrels and birds.

They are also extremely intelligent - quickly learning dog commands and mimicking their owners to open gates or even flush the lavatory.

Singer experts fear that, through interbreeding with modern domesticated dogs, the singers will become just another mongrel mutt and their genetic link to the primordial pooch will be lost.

Presenter Andrew Luck-Baker goes in search of the truth about the Singer's history. And along the way, he hears from owners of pet singers about the canines' spooky intelligence - and meets a pack of the dogs in full voice.
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