The short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis) is a truly rare canid species endemic to the forests of the Amazon basin. However, it is so rare that even experts who specialize in studying this wild dog report that over many years they have only sighted it on a handful of occasions. In 2014, after fourteen years’ study, the ecologist Renata Leite Pitman reported that she had only managed to electronically tag five individuals. Interviewed by National Geographic in 2014, Leite Pitman identified Tambopata National Reserve as one of the two best places in South America to spot this timid mammal.
Also known as the small-eared dog or short-eared zorro, this most elusive of Amazonian mammals is so rare that visitors to the forests of South America are more likely to spot a jaguar than they are to sight this solitary creature.
Isolated from other canine species for millions of years, and fully adapted to life in the rainforest, the short-eared dog is the only member of the genus Atelocynus; in other words, in taxonomical terms it has been found to have no close relatives among the world’s fox- and wolf-like canids.
Because it is so rare, little is known about this jungle dog’s population size, geographic distribution or behavior. Described as almost cat-like in its movements, the short-eared dog is able to blend in with the undergrowth of the forest floor. It has a slender body, and its short, thick coat is said to range from a fox-like dark red to coffee-colored or even black. Its limbs are short, and its tail large and bushy like that of a fox. It has adapted to the semi-aquatic nature of its preferred wetland habitat –an ecosystem found throughout Tambopata National Reserve- by developing partially webbed paws.
One of the few studies carried out into this species concluded that its diet consists mainly of small mammals, fish, amphibians, insects, fruits and birds. It is also known to fall prey to larger predators, such as jaguars and boa constrictors. Unlike many canine species throughout the world, the short-eared dog does not form packs. It prefers a solitary lifestyle, seeking out a mate only when females, which are much larger than males, mark their territory to indicate they are in heat.
While it is true that biologists know very little about this species, the scientific community has speculated that, along with so many other major species of the Amazon basin, the short-eared dog’s numbers are declining as a result of habitat loss and the encroachment of humans and domestic dogs upon much of the territory it once roamed. It is known that diseases commonly carried by domestic dogs, including parvovirus, can be transmitted to this wild jungle dog.