The dobsegna is a caniform cryptid reported from the highlands of Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya, including the Sudirman Range, Star Mountains, and Jayawijaya Mountains. It is often identified with the thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), which existed in New Guinea during the earlier Holocene. It has been suggested that the highlands of New Guinea may be a more likely place for living thylacines to be discovered than Tasmania or the Australian mainland.
Bernard Heuvelmans first reported in 1986 the possible existence of "a large, dog-like animal" on Mount Giluwe, in Papua's Southern Highlands Province, which he suggested could be a thylacine. According to Karl Shuker, this was distinct from the New Guinea singing dog, which is also found on Mount Giluwe. Grazier Ned Terry received the first detailed description of the dobsegna when he visited Irian Jaya, possibly the Baliem Valley region or Oksibil, during the early 1990s. In 1995, the anthropologist Gerrit J. T. Schuurkamp wrote that local hunters of the high Star Mountains, on the border between Papua and Irian Jaya, were capable of accurately describing the thylacine, which they depicted as shy, rarely-seen, and found at altitudes of 4000 m (13000 ft) or more. Explorer Ralf Kiesel confirmed to Karl Shuker in 2003 that there had been rumours of thylacines in the Yali region of the Baliem Valley, and in Carstenz National Park, since 1995, and passed on a sighting report from the 1970s. In 2011, Chad Arment revealed that an American animal importer had told him about a strange thylacine-like animal in New Guinea during the 1990s.
Throughout 1997, confused accounts of "tigers" likened to thylacines in the Jayawijaya Mountains of Irian Jaya appeared in Indonesian newspapers. This began when Governor Jos Buce Wenas announced, based on information received from missionaries, that a thylacine-like animal existed in the regions of the Kurima Tableland, Oksibil, and Okbibab. Wenas described it as a tiger-sized, cave-dwelling predator which hunted in packs during the evening. Soon afterwards, forestry officer Kayat Sutaryo claimed that villagers of the Baliem Valley had reported that their livestock had been suffering depredations from thylacines. At the same time, a naturalist named Richard Kalelego claimed that he had seen thylacine footprints in the forests of Mount Carstenz during a 1993 expedition, and the Indonesian Natural Conservation Agency simultaneously announced that people of Mount Carstenz had reported seeing several thylacines foraging at night. As of 2000, rumours of thylacine-like carnivorous marsupials were still current in the Jayawijaya Mountains.
Beginning in 2000, Malcolm Smith has received much information on possible thylacines in New Guinea from a correspondent named Franz, an Austrian who has travelled in remote or unexplored regions of Irian Jaya since 1976. He first heard rumours of thylacines in the highlands during his last journey before 2000, when it was reported that a thylacine had been killing chickens at the mission post of Oksibil. On later journeys in Papua, Franz showed local villagers images of thylacines and other unfamiliar animals. Lowlanders never recognised the thylacine, but several people in or from the highlands could identify the thylacine, and only the thylacine. One man indicated that the animal was "very shy and rarely seen," and found at very high altitudes, in a region of grassland, marshes, and montane scrub. Another highlander mimicked the animal's habit of rearing up on its hind legs to see over long grass.
In 2019, Sydney documentary filmmaker Robbie Fatt told Smith that he had investigated the thylacine at a Papuan village named Turnobil, near the border with Irian Jaya, and had found that two hunters were familiar with the animal.
The dobsegna and other alleged New Guinea thylacines are compared to dogs in appearance, but are distinguished from that animal by local peoples on several points, including a striped coat and a more elevated habitat. The dobsegna allegedly has a longer, thinner tail, as well as a larger and more powerful mouth, than a dog. In addition, it is described as having "no intestines" from its ribs to its hips, indicating that this part of its torso, which is also striped, is unusually thin. Their coats may be more grey than the tan of Australian and Tasmanian thylacines.
The dobsegna itself is said to be nocturnal and crepuscular, emerging from caves and rocky dens at dawn and dusk to hunt small marsupials and birds. All accounts describe New Guinea thylacines as extremely shy and rarely-seen animals, except for one alleged sighting which featured a trio approaching humans for food. It is capable of balancing upright on its hind legs to look over long grass. Thylacine-like animals in New Guinea are always reported from high altitudes in the mountains and river valleys, never from the lowlands. Local people are reputedly very afraid of the dobsegna, associating it with evil spirits, and use its faeces "to perform magic on enemies".
Ralf Kiesel told Karl Shuker that a friend of his named Jan Sarakang had reported an encounter with thylacine-like animals in the mountains west of Carstenz National Park, during the 1970s. According to his account, he and a colleague were eating a meal while camped near Puncak Jaya at an altitude of about 8000 ft (2400 m), when they were approached by two unusual dog-like animals, an adult and a cub, which emerged from the bush:
An anonymous correspondent of Smith's claimed to have seen a thylacine while he was posted for three years in the Jayawijaya Mountains, but he gave no details beyond describing it as grey in colour. In September 2019, a caller named Graham rang into ABC Radio Hobart to report a story about New Guinea thylacines to thylacine researcher Gareth Linnard. According to Graham, when he was living in Bali "a couple of years ago," some schoolteachers from Irian Jaya told him that two thylacine joeys had been killed by villagers, two or three years previously, because of their depredations on the village's chickens.
Referring to Terry's original description of the dobsegna, Shuker opines that "seldom have I encountered a more accurate verbal portrait of a thylacine". Based on the fossil record, thylacines existed in eastern New Guinea–which, during the Late Pleistocene, was connected with mainland Australia, and by extension Tasmania, as the continent of Sahul–during the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene. These populations may have been morphologically distinct from those of eastern Australia and Tasmania. In New Guinea, thylacine fossils are best-represented from the highland regions, and are often found in association with wallaby remains.
Franz expressed some doubts as to whether thylacines could find enough prey in the mountainous regions from which reports emanate, which are mainly home to animals such as tree kangaroos, possums, cassowaries, and small reptiles. Mammalogist Tim Flannery, noted for his field work in New Guinea, also argues that the overhunting of wild animals, particularly wallabies, in these regions throws strong doubt on reports of thylacines. However, Flannery does not entirely rule out the possibility of thylacines existing in isolated regions of the New Guinea highlands. Shuker and Smith regard New Guinea as a more likely place to find living thylacines than either Tasmania or mainland Australia.
New Guinea is also home to a rare variety of dingo-like dog, the New Guinea singing dog, which has sometimes been suggested as an explanation for local thylacine stories. Although Shuker finds this an unlikely explanation for most reports, given that the singing dog is unstriped and well-known to local people, Chris Orrick has suggested that a singing dog could explain the 1970s sighting, in which no stripes were mentioned. On the other hand, Shuker suggests that the apparent lack of stripes on these animals could have been a trick of the moonlight.
Notes and references
- Heuvelmans, Bernard "Annotated Checklist of Apparently Unknown Animals With Which Cryptozoology Is Concerned", Cryptozoology, No. 5 (1986)
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (2016) Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors: The Creatures That Time Forgot?, Coachwhip Publications, ISBN 978-1616463908
- Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC-CLIO, Inc., ISBN 1576072835
- Smith, Malcolm (2021) Bunyips and Bigfoots: Up-Dated Second Edition, ASIN B08VYDC728
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (2020) Mystery Cats of the World Revisited: Blue Tigers, King Cheetahs, Black Cougars, Spotted Lions, and More, Anomalist Books, ISBN 978-1949501179
- Smith, Malcolm (3 October 2013) Thylacines in Indonesian New Guinea - Further Evidence malcolmscryptids.blogspot.com [Accessed 13 September 2021]
- Morgan, Greg "Gone? Maybe Not," Garuda (1993)
- Schuurkamp, Gerrit J. T. (1995) The Min of the Papua New Guinea Star Mountains: A Look at Their Traditional Culture and Heritage
- Cochrane, Janet (2000) The National Parks and Other Wild Places of Indonesia
- Evenings with Mel Bush (10 September 2019)
- New Guinea Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) Sighting Reports - The Recently Extinct Plants and Animals Database recentlyextinctspecies.com [Accessed 17 October 2021]
- Nowak, Ronald M. (2018) Walker's Mammals of the World: Monotremes, Marsupials, Afrotherians, Xenarthrans, and Sundatherians
- Pasveer, Juliette M. "The Djief Hunters: 26,000 Years of Rainforest Exploitation on the Bird's Head of Papua, Indonesia," Modern Quaternary Research in Southeast Asia, Vol. 17
- Flannery, Tim (2007) Country: A Continent, a Scientist and a Kangaroo