The short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis) is a truly rare canid species, endemic to the forests of the Amazon basin. In fact, 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.
Remarkably, during our own camera trap studies at Tambopata Ecolodge, we have been able to confirm that the short-eared dog has found a refuge in the rainforests we are working to conserve and protect. The presence of this extremely rare species in our area serves as a positive indicator of the health of the forests we maintain within our Tambopata Private Conservation Area.
Also known as the small-eared dog or short-eared fox, this most elusive of the Amazon basin’s large mammals is so rare that visitors to the forests of South America are much 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 Amazon rainforest, the short-eared dog is the only member of the genus Atelocynus; in taxonomical terms, this means that it has been found to have no close relatives among the world’s fox- and wolf-like canids.
Its rarity means that very little is known about this jungle dog’s population size, geographical distribution or behavior. Described by observers as remarkably cat-like in its movements, the short-eared dog has a slender body, and its short, thick coat is said to range from dark red to coffee-colored or even black, enabling it to blend in with the shadowy undergrowth of the forest floor. Its limbs are short, and its tail is large and bushy like that of a fox. Fascinatingly, this unique creature has even managed to adapt 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 scientific studies conducted 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 anacondas. Unlike many canine species throughout the world, the short-eared dog does not form packs. Instead, it leads a solitary existence, 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 and naturalists know very little about this species, the scientific community has speculated that, along with so many other major species in 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 many parts of its preferred habitat. It is known that diseases commonly carried by domestic dogs, including parvovirus, can be transmitted to this wild jungle dog.