By Dr. Becker
If you've never heard of the short-eared dog of the Amazon rainforest, you're not alone. In fact, this mysterious little fellow is so elusive that many of the region's most experienced field biologists have never laid eyes on him. That's why the inadvertent filming of one of the little dogs by a conservation biologist is causing such a stir.
The short-eared dog is also referred to as the short-eared zorro. He is of the species Atelocynus microtis, and holds the distinction of being the only species assigned to the genus Atelocynus.
A. microtis is found only in the Amazon rainforests of South America, including in Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, and possibly Venezuela. The dogs inhabit various types of terrain in the rainforest, but always in areas where humans are not.
The Short-Eared Dog Looks More Like a Cat
Looks-wise, the short-eared dog has a superficial resemblance to the bush dog, but in many ways he looks more like a wild feline than a canine. His body shape and coloring are similar to those of a jaguarundi, though he's a bit bigger in size.
The short-eared dog has short slender legs, a slightly narrow chest, a bushy tail, small rounded ears, and a muzzle similar to that of a fox. His coat is short, thick, and rough, and comes in colors that range from reddish-grey, to almost a navy blue, to dark or chestnut-grey, to the color of coffee. His paws are partly webbed, which is an adaptation for wetland habitats.
Not only is his appearance cat-like, so are his movements, which is completely unique among canids.
Because These Little Dogs Are So Elusive, Not Much Is Known About Them
The short-eared dog, like all canines, is a carnivore. It is reported his diet consists primarily of fish, along with insects, small mammals, fruit, birds, crabs, frogs, and reptiles.
An additional feature unique to this canid species is that females are up to one-third larger in size than males. How long they live in the wild is unknown.
There is very little data available on the social structure of short-eared dogs, but indications are they are solitary creatures. There is also very little data on how the dogs communicate. The males give off a strong musky odor from their anal glands that is thought to be a method of communication. The dogs are also known to bare their teeth and growl when threatened.
Another mystery is the dogs' mating system. It is unknown when breeding occurs or the length of gestation. It is believed females give birth in May or June, and adults have been found with two or three pups inside dens in hollow logs or burrows. There is currently no information on when pups are weaned or reach sexual maturity.
Known predators of the short-eared dog are ocelots, jaguars, and pumas.
The short-eared dog is one of the most rare carnivore species in South America, with estimates at only 15,000 individuals. It is classified as "Near Threatened" on the IUCN Redlist, with major threats including habitat loss and transmission of disease from domestic dogs, including distemper and parvovirus.
There is ongoing research being conducted on the dogs in Peru, including a campaign to vaccinate domestic dogs in the range of the short-eared dogs to prevent disease transmission. There are also plans in place to study the ecology and conservation of short-eared dogs in other South American countries.
An Incredibly Rare Sighting of a Short-Eared Dog Caught on Video
This video was shot in 2006:
Also be sure to watch a more recent video at this NatGeo link.