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Short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis)

A rare Short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis), also known as the short-eared Zorro, short-eared fox, small-eared dog; in French: renard à petites oreilles; in Portuguese: cachorro-do-mato -de-orelhas-curtas; in Spanish: perro de monte, perro de orejas cortas, zorro negro, zorro ojizarco, is a canid species endemic to the Amazonian basin. It is very unique, this is the only species assigned to the genus Atelocynus. The Short-eared Dog can be found in the Amazon rainforest region of South America (in Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and possible Venezuela). It lives in different parts of the rainforest environment, preferring areas with little human disturbance. It lives in both lowland forests know as Selva Amazónica and terra firme forest, as well as in swamp forest, stands of bamboo, and partly Cloud forest.

The Short-eared Dog’s evolution is analogous to other canids and placental mammals of South America. Throughout creation of Isthmus of Panama in the latter part the Tertiary (about 2.5 million years ago in the Pliocene), dogs migrated from North America to the southern continent. The Short-eared Dog’s ancestors adapted to life in tropical rainforests, developing the requisite morphological and anatomical features. The latest systematics classifies it as a species in the Canini tribe, and its closest modern relative is probably the Crab-eating Fox (Cerdocyon thous ). It has 74 (2 x 36 autosomes + one pair of sex chromosomes) chromosomes.

More interesting facts about this wonderful unique doggy: the short-eared Zorro has short and slender limbs with short and rounded ears. The Short-eared Dog has a distinctive fox-like muzzle and bushy tail. It ranges from dark to reddish-grey, but can also be nearly navy blue, coffee brown, dark grey or chestnut-grey, and the coat is short, with thick and bristly fur. Its paws are partly webbed, owing to its partly aquatic habitat. It moves with feline lightness unparalleled among the other canids. It has a somewhat narrow chest, with dark colour variation on thorax merging to brighter, more reddish tones on the abdominal side of the body. This species possesses a large elongated head and long canine teeth, protruding even when its muzzle is closed. Its back often has a dark streak, while a brighter stain is on its tail. Like all canids, it has 42 teeth. Typical height at the shoulder is 25-30 cm. Its head nad body length is about 100 cm, with a tail of about 30-35 cm. It weighs about 9-10 kg.

A young/baby of a Short-eared dog is called a “whelp or pup”. The females are called “bitch” and males “dog or sire”. A Short-eared dog group is called a “pack, litter (young), kennel, gang or legion”.

This wild fox/dog for the most part is a carnivore, with fish, insects, and small mammals making up the majority of its diet. An investigation led in Cocha Cashu Biological Station in Peru into the proportions of different kinds of food in this animal’s diet produced the following results: fish 28%, insects 17%, small mammals 13%, various fruits 10%, crabs 10%, frogs 4%, reptiles 3%, birds 10%. This species has some unique behaviours not typical to other canids. Females of this species are about almost 1/3 larger than males. The excited male sprays a musk produced by the tail glands. It prefers a solitary lifestyle, in forest areas. It avoids humans in the natural environment. Agitated males will raise the hairs on its back. Lifespan and gestation period are unknown, although it is assumed that sexual maturity is reached at about one year of age.

The Short-eared Dog competes for food with the Jaguar, the Cougar, the Ocelot, the Margay and the Giant Otter, and compete for territory with the Bush Dog. Feral dogs pose a prominent threat to the population of the Short-eared Dog, as they proliferate the spread of diseases such as canine distemper and rabies to the wild population. Humans also contribute to the extermination of the Short-eared Dog via aggrandizement of the species’ natural habitat and the destruction of tropical rainforests. Scientists still have little knowledge on its ecology.

A sensational new WildCRU initiative is to launch a research project and study of the short-eared dog, and sympatric carnivores, in one of the largest and most pristine rainforest areas of the world, in the Manu National Park (located south east of Peru, between the North of the Cusco Department and the Madre de Dios Department. The park comes from the Highlands, until the Jungle, it has 2 million Hectares (4.5 million acres), the territory is rich in flora and fauna species with a variety of habitats including high Andes, cloud forests, and lowland tropical rain forests) and the adjacent Alto Purus Reserved Zone (2.5 million ha), both in Peru. Bearing in mind almost nothing is known of this species, the project will be broadly based, but with a keen eye to the risks of disease caught from domestic dogs along with other conflicts stemming from the human populations outside the park. Planned outputs of the project include a vaccination programme for domestic dogs and a community education programme. Reports suggested that the short-eared dog was relatively common in Peru in the 1960s, but seemingly vanished from the region between 1970 and 1990, although our preliminary results are that it is increasing again. This pattern suggests two working hypotheses. Initially, that an epizootic disease is involved and, second that the short-eared dog was the victim of shifts in community structure, perhaps triggered by a documented crash in the peccary populations which may have shifted jaguars’ diet and thus provoked a cascade of other effects. Domestic dogs are known to be an effective lure for jaguars, so perhaps short-eared dogs also attract the attention of these big cats. In a survey that held in 2000 a population of the short-eared-dogs in Manu National Park, along with healthy populations of peccaries, and jaguars. The same survey disclosed, even in the far-off villages in the park, widespread antibody titres for both distemper and parvovirus amongst domestic dogs. In 2002 a survey in the Alto Purus Reserved Zone revealed short-eared-dogs, jaguars and even peccaries, and led to the first ever radio-collaring of a short-eared dog. Two weeks after, this unique creature was shot and killed by local hunters.

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