Freeport supports UnCen in Research of Singing Dog in Papuan Highlands

25 November 2020

PT Freeport Indonesia in collaboration with Cendrawasih University (Uncen) and the Newland Wild Dog Foundation (NGHWDF) has completed the second phase of the research into the “singing dog” species of the Papua highlands that began in 2018.

General Superintendent of Highland Reclamation and Monitoring, PTFI Pratita Puradyatmika, said in Timika that this dog species dwelling in the Papua highlands are known to the local community as “singing dogs”. The first phase of the research into the species goes back to 2016 upon initiation of the State Papua University Manokwari in collaboration with NGHWDF.

 The second phase was carried out for two months in August 2018 to be exact in the Tembagapura District, Mimika Regency. The results of the research were published in the September 1 2020 issue of an American scientific journal called Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The second phase of the research was conducted in an effort to analyze the genetic relationship between the singing dog and any other wild dog species dwelling in the Papua highlands. After monitoring them with camera traps the researchers managed to record 18 singng dogs.

Blood samples, skin and dog hair were also subjected to research in order to analyze physical traits, demography and behavior. Results of the research indicated that the singing dog shares a number of similarities with the wild dog of the highlands as well as the dingo in Australia.

Pratita said the singing dog species is found almost in all areas of PTFI’s Grasberg mine. No doubt a number of workers in the Grasberg area have seen a pack of these dogs from nearby.

“The singing dog will never attack humans.  On the contrary, packs of dogs have been seen freely mingling among employees working in the open mining area,” Pratita said. Local residents strongly believe the dogs to be descendants from their forefathers. It is this local wisdom that helped the community and PTFI build their sense of responsibility to guard the preservation of this animal.

“It has always been PTFI’s commitment to protect Papua’s mega biodiversity through research and environmental preservation efforts. Therefore besides guarding the singing dog population and its habitat in our working area, PTFI will always be on top of offering support to diverse parties including UnCen to conduct further research for the sake of conservation,” he said.

The singing dog can be identified by a thicker woolier or fluffier skin and a relatively smaller body (45cm height/65cm length for males and 37cm height/55cm length for females)  compared to other wild dogs.

They live in small packs of 2-3 dogs. Other traits districting them from other dogs are the way they communicate. They don’t bark but howl.

These animals live in small herds, with the number of about two to three in one group. Another thing that distinguishes this dog from other dogs is how it communicates, which is not by barking but only howling.

This unique howl that touches the low to high melody makes local people call this animal named 'singing dog.' However, further research is still needed to ensure many things, including scientifically consider its protection status, considering that this animal needs to be preserved and has not been included in the list of protected animals.

Uncen Chancellor DR Apolo Safanpo stated that Uncen would continue the third phase of research in May 2021. "Given that there are still many things that we need to understand, such as taxonomy, reproduction, social life, their role in the food chain, and other things that can be scientifically based for determining the protection status of singing dogs," said Apolo.

The research site is located in the former PTFI Grasberg open-pit mine at an altitude of 3,800 to 4,300 meters above sea level. The remote location and various geographical conditions in the research location were obstacles the research team faced when completing this research. “One of our biggest challenges in maximizing this research is the remote location of the research with the terrain that is so extreme and difficult to reach by ordinary vehicles. For that, we are working with PT Freeport Indonesia to support this research by providing various supporting facilities and transportation, especially to help us reach the difficult terrain in the PTFI work area,” he said.

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