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Tag: discovery

Alpha — the “first” boy meets dog movie — hits theaters this month

It’s certainly not the first “boy and his dog” movie, but “Alpha,” coming out this month, is the oldest, at least in terms of the history it attempts to portray — that being 20,000 years ago when man and wolf first befriended.

It’s a tale from the ice age, billing itself as historical and an “incredible story of how mankind discovered man’s best friend.”

It takes place in Europe, 20,000 years ago.

Alpha-300x300While on his first hunt with his tribe, a young man is injured and left for dead. He awakens to find himself alone in the wilds.

Things get worse from there when he encounters a pack of wolves and fends them off, injuring one of the younger ones. He can’t bring himself to kill the wolf who, like him, has also been abandoned by his pack.

That proves to be a bumpy process, requiring more than a “here, boy,” or a tossed treat.

The two eventually bond, learning to rely on each other as they encounter dangers that include doing battle with prehistoric animals as they try to find their way home before winter arrives.

The movie was directed by Albert Hughes and features “X-Men: Apocalypse” star Kodi Smit-McPhee and Johannes Haukur Johannesson.

Pawprint in the mud leads to discovery that New Guinea highland wild dogs still exist

hihgland2

After nearly half a century of fearing that the New Guinea highland wild dog had gone extinct in its remote and inhospitable habitat, high in the mountains of New Guinea, a pawprint in the mud has led researchers to confirm the existence of at least 15 of them.

Photographs taken with camera traps and DNA analyses of biological samples confirm the dogs — considered the most ancient breed on earth — are living along New Guinea’s remote central mountain spine.

“The discovery and confirmation of the highland wild dog for the first time in over half a century is not only exciting, but an incredible opportunity for science,” says the group behind the discovery, the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation (NGHWDF).

hihgland1An expedition by the foundation last year led to the discovery of the population — after a member of the group noticed a pawprint in the mud.

New Guinea highland wild dogs were only known from two unconfirmed photographs in recent years — one taken in 2005, and the other in 2012.

They had not been documented with certainty in their native range in over half a century, and experts feared that what was left of the ancient dogs had dwindled to extinction.

Last year, a NGHWDF expedition led by zoologist James K. McIntyre, was joined by local researchers from the University of Papua, who were also seeking the the elusive dogs.

A muddy paw print spotted in September 2016 finally gave them what they were looking for — recent signs that the wild canids still wandered the dense forests of the New Guinea highlands.

The footprint was one McIntyre had left, with his bare feet, while going up the mountain. On the group’s way down the mountain, he noticed it had been joined by a paw print.

Bait was laid. Camera traps were set. And the cameras captured more than 140 images of Highland Wild Dog.

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DNA analysis of fecal fecal samples confirmed that the breed is related to Australian dingos and New Guinea singing dogs – the captive-bred variants of the New Guinea highland wild dog.

The species established itself on the island at least 6,000 years ago, either arriving with human migrants or migrating independently of humans.

The dogs most commonly have a golden coat, but can also be black, tan or cream colors. Their tails curl up over their backsides and their ears sit erect on their heads.

According to the NGHWDF, there are roughly 300 New Guinea singing dogs remaining in the world, living in zoos and private homes. They are known for their high-pitched howls, often carried out in chorus with one another.

A scientific paper on the discovery is expected to be released in the coming months.

(Photos: NGHWDF)

Dig this: Uncovered tooth shows Mesolithic man took road trips — and with dogs

stonehenge

Archaeologists say they have uncovered evidence that dogs weren’t just already domesticated by man 7,000 years ago, but they were taking road trips with him as well.

They say a dog’s tooth found one mile from Stonehenge is the earliest evidence of people traveling to the site of the prehistoric monument — even before its famous rock formation was constructed, believed to be 5,000 years ago.

An isotope analysis of the tooth’s enamel at Durham University showed the dog originally hailed from York, or at least had consumed water there. Bones found near the site suggest the dog feasted on salmon, trout, pike, wild pig and red deer.

toothThe dog most likely resembled a German shepherd, but with a more distinctly wolf-like appearance.

Researchers believe the dog made the 250-mile trip from York to Wiltshire 7,000 years ago with a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer.

Possibly, they say, he was taking it there to trade.

Archaeologist David Jacques, who leads the team digging at an encampment site called Blick Mead, said the findings show that dogs were domesticated by Mesolithic times, and that, contrary to popular thought, man was doing some long distance travel back then.

And it shows that what’s now the world’s most famous prehistoric monument was drawing people from afar even before whoever arranged those rocks arranged those rocks.

“The fact that a dog and a group of people were coming to the area from such a long distance away further underlines just how important the place was four millennia before the circle was built,” said Jacques, a senior research fellow at the University of Buckingham.

As the decade-long dig continues, The Guardian reported, evidence is accumulating that Stonehenge — as long as 7,000 years ago — was a gathering place.

“It makes us wonder if this place is a hub point, a really important place for the spread of ideas, new technologies and probably genes,” Jacques said.

Our guess? It was a flea market.

Dog burial site dates to Aztec times

burialsite

A dog cemetery that goes back to Aztec times has been uncovered beneath an old apartment building in Mexico City.

Archaeologists announced the discovery Friday and said that — while the remains of dogs have been found in Aztec ruins before — this is the first time a group of dogs has been found buried together at one site.

The 12 dogs were buried around the same time in a small pit between 1350 a 1520 A.D., according to the Associated Press.

Aztecs believed dogs could guide human souls into a new life after death, and it was not uncommon for dogs to be buried under monuments under the thinking their spirits would provide protection.

The team of archaeologists determined when the dogs were buried through ceramics and other items found in nearby pits under the apartment building in the populous Mexico City borough of Aztacapozalco.

Archaeologist Rocio Morales Sanchez said digging deeper could help reveal why the dogs were buried there.

Experts with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH, called the find “exceptional.”

Archaeologist Antonio Zamora, who works at the excavation site, said a biologist told the team the remains belonged to medium-sized dogs, likely Techichi dogs, a breed believed to be an ancestor of the Chihuahua, and Xoloitzcuintlis.

(Photo: Courtesy of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History)

Pit bulls may provide clues to brain disease

Scientists have discovered a gene mutation that causes a fatal neurodegenerative disease in American Staffordshire terriers, and they say the same gene may also be linked to a fatal brain disease in humans.

The discovery of the gene may lead to improved screening and diagnosis of the disease in dogs, and could be a first step in developing a cure for NCLs (neuronal ceroid lipofuscinoses) in humans, Business Week reports.

NCLs are a family of diseases that lead to mental and motor deterioration and death.

Adult-onset NCL affects one of every 400 registered American Staffordshire terriers, according to research team member Dr. Natasha Olby, an associate professor of neurology at North Carolina State University.

Genetic analysis revealed the location of the specific gene and an entirely new mutation that has not been reported in people.

In humans, NCLs such as Batten disease mostly affect children, but there is an adult-onset form called Kufs’ disease that causes gradual death of brain neurons, resulting in vision loss, epilepsy, loss of coordination and dementia, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The findings mean that researchers can now conduct tests to determine if the same mutation is responsible for Kufs’ disease in humans.

Study: Dogs closer to humans than chimps

Chimps may share more of our genes, but dogs have lived with us for so long — in our houses, on our beds (and, of course, sneaking out for late night poker games) — they may evolved into a better model for understanding human social behavior, according to a new study.

In terms of cooperation, attachment to people, their ability to imitate and their understanding of human communication (verbally and non-verbally) dogs have become not just man’s best friend, but, socially, his closest counterpart in the animal kingdom, according to a paper accepted for publication in the journal Advances in the Study of Behavior.

They might even be thinking more like us, too. the Discovery Channel’s Jennifer Viegas reports.

Researchers believe adapting to the same living conditions may have resulted in the similarities. “That shared environment has led to the emergence of functionally shared behavioral features in dogs and humans and, in some cases, functionally analogous underlying cognitive skills” lead author Jozsef Topal explained to Discovery News.

(Digression: While I couldn’t agree more with that — to the extent I understand it — I don’t agree with what Topal says it should lead to:  dogs serving as the “new chimpanzees” in psychological studies. In fact, I’m not much on the chimps being used, either, or poor college students, at least when such experimentation gets into using drugs, scalpels and electrical implements. )

The study by Topal and his team at the Institute for Psychology at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences found that dogs kept as pets can be regarded in many respects as “infants in canine clothing,” and that many dog-owner relationships mirror human parental bonds with children.

In one of many recent studies conducted by the team, Topal and his colleagues taught both a 16-month-old human child and mature dogs to repeat multiple demonstrated actions on verbal command — “Do it!,” shouted in Hungarian.

The actions included turning around in circles, vocalizing, jumping up, jumping over a horizontal rod, putting an object into a container, carrying an object to the owner or parent, according to the study.

While I don’t find that all that amazing, it is fascinating to think about how dogs, the longer they live with humans and the closer our relationships become, might continue to evolve in the household. I’m guessing there are already some homes that tune into TV shows they think the dog will like. How much longer until the dog controls the remote?

Puppy Bowl V: More super than ever

It’s Puppy Bowl time again.

A perennial favorite for those seeking an alternative to the Super Bowl, the Puppy Bowl is basically two hours of watching rambunctious puppies frolic on the gridiron of Animal Planet Stadium.

Puppy Bowl V will be the first to feature an entire cast of shelter and rescue dogs — all 20 dogs featured are up-for-adoption pets, or free agents to use the sports term. Two are from our neck of the woods — the SPCA of Anne Arundel County.

The SPCA also provided the cats that will be featured as half-time entertainment.

To kick start this year’s sports extravaganza, “Pepper the Parrot,” will be singing a unique rendition of the National Anthem.

To find out more about the Puppy Bowl, and how to vote for Most Valuable Puppy, visit Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl web page.

The Puppy Bowl airs from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday on Animal Planet network.

Here’s a look at last year’s action: