New Guinea singing dogs, named for their melodic howls and maybe the next hot pet, have now been branded as wild animals in Florida.
On Thursday, state wildlife managers announced that the dogs have been classified as exotic animals, which would require owners to obtain a license. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Rob Klepper said the change was made to make state regulations consistent with federal rules.
Ron Magill of Zoo Miami, where two aging singing dogs treat zookeepers to morning musicals, also suspects the state is trying to nip the next exotic intruder in the bud.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“South Florida has become the Ellis Island for wild animals. That’s just the bottom line,” he said. “If there’s a market and they can sell it, people don’t look way into the future. They’re just thinking of the novelty of now.”
While very few singing dogs can be found in North America, more are being bred as pets thanks to visibility on the Internet, New Guinea Singing Dog Conservation Society president Janice Koler-Matznick wrote in an email. Over the last five years, the estimated number in the United States has more than doubled to 300, although the conservation society clearly warns potential owners of the risks.
“Pet placements often do not work,” she wrote. “They expected them to act like a domestic dog and become ‘obedient.’”
Whether or not they are truly wild also continues to be debated. Zoologists believe the dogs evolved from a line of dingos. After New Guinea split from Australia, the dogs evolved into smaller animals capable of hunting prey in thick rainforests, they say.
Others contend the dogs were never really wild, since so few have been documented, and are simply a feral species of domesticated dog.
Whichever the case, they make lousy pets, Magill said.
“It has wild roots and wild instincts,” he said. “They’re incredible hunters in the wild. That can lead to problems, not to mention they make a lot of noise when they sing in the morning. The neighbors will not be happy.”
Zoo Miami has two singing dogs in its Australia exhibit. Magill said the dogs are nearing retirement age, so they may not be on display for much longer. Their howling, he said, is almost operatic.
“It’s a type of howling chorus. One dog starts and the others follow,” he said. “It’s a haunting, wonderful sound. It almost sounds like they’re talking to you.”
This story was updated to include responses from the state wildlife agency and dog conservation society.
Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich