Researchers find details on NZ's first dog

  • 08/10/2015
Researchers find details on NZ's first dog

Researchers are piecing together more details about New Zealand's first dog, the now extinct kuri.

With state-of-the-art DNA technology, Otago University PhD student Karen Greig has been able to analyse the genetic make-up of kuri using bones found at Wairau Bar - one of the country's most important archaeological sites.

With greater knowledge about the DNA of kuri, she can now start comparing the DNA of the New Zealand dogs with that of other dogs around the Pacific.

"It gives us a way of looking at the relationship between different groups of dogs which we didn't have before," Ms Greig told NZ Newswire.

"We can start tracing the movements back about how dogs may have arrived in the Pacific."

When the first settlers arrived in New Zealand from east Polynesia in the early 14th century, they brought their dogs with them.

From the analysis of their DNA, the kuri appear to be most genetically similar to modern dogs from Indonesia.

But Ms Greig is interested in going back even further and working out how dogs ended up in the Pacific - which will also provide more clues about patterns of human migration.

"There's still quite a lot about dogs that we don't know, despite them being such an important part of people's lives today," she said.

"We are still trying to find out where they were first domesticated."

Kuri were smallish dogs about the size of cocker spaniels.

They were the only domesticated animal to be successfully introduced by the Polynesian settlers but died out as a distinct breed after interbreeding with European dogs.