Monday, June 3, 2013

Falkland Islands Wolf (Dusicyon australis)

1890 illustration of Falkland Wolf. Artwork by John Gerrard
Keulemans.
The Falkland Wolf has the unfortunate distinction of being the first Canid to have gone extinct in historic times. DNA analysis and brain structure have revealed this animal's closest relative to be the Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) of South America. The two species diverged from a common ancestor about 6.7 million years ago, a split that likely occurred in North America since the South American continent did not connect to North America until about 3mya. Other names for this species has also been called the Falkland Islands Wolf, Warrah, Falkland Islands Dog, Falkland Islands Fox, and Antarctic Wolf.

Habitat & Distribution
The Falkland Islands. Wiki.
It lived on the East and West Falkland Islands located 400km east of southern Argentina, having arrived their during the last glacial maximum around 19,000 years ago. It occurred in all the habitats on these islands, including rocky shrub, grassland, bogs, and marshland. Because of its isolation and status as the islands' top predator it had no fear of humans, which sadly made it very easy to kill, so much so that documented accounts exist of people luring them in with meat in one hand then killing it with a knife or stick in the other.

Physical Attributes
  • Shoulder Height: 40 to 45cm (1.3 to 1.5ft)
  • Head and Body Length: 95 to 100cm (3.1 to 3.3ft)
  • Tail Length: 28 to 30cm (0.9 to 1ft)
  • Weight: 10 to 25kg (22 to 55lbs)
The Falkland Wolf was medium-sized by dog standards, the size of a Coyote (Canis latrans) or Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas), although it was shorter and more powerfully-built than either. It had a soft, thick coat that was brownish-red in color with fine white speckling. The undersides were paler in color. The head was relatively short and broad with small ears. The tail was short and bushy with a distinctive white tip. The Falkland Wolf was a pure carnivore with blade-like cheek teeth, and its canines were quite long and strong for its size. 

Ecology & Behavior
Unfortunately this species was never formally studied, and so most aspects of its behavior are unknown. By comparing it to its living relatives, however, we can infer that they would form monogamous pairs with both parents aiding in rearing the young. They were limited to only small prey on the islands, and so hunting and feeding among adults would have likely been a solitary affair.

Interestingly, the Falkland Wolf was the only terrestrial mammal on the Falkland Islands. Therefore, its diet consisted mainly of ground-nesting birds such as gulls, penguins, and geese, which it would have killed by crushing the neck vertebrae. It is also known to have fed readily on insects. On the beaches they would have picked off unattended seal and sea lion pups, and also scavenged the carcasses of dead animals that washed ashore. It was the only land predator of the Falklands and so had no competitors.

When Charles Darwin first encountered the Falkland Wolf in 1833, he noted that the population was already in decline, and predicted that its extinction would be eminent with the arrival of permanent settlers. He also claimed that it would be easy to kill by hunters due to its lack of fear of humans (as the largest predator of its environment, it did not need to fear anything). Sadly, he was right on both counts. As increasing numbers of visits were made to the islands during the 1800s, Falkland Wolf numbers began to dwindle. In 1839, the arrival of fur traders from the United States in particular led to huge population declines. However, it was the arrival of Scottish settlers in the 1860s that sealed this species' fate. In a groundless belief that it was a threat to livestock, a huge poisoning campaign was launched and the species was systematically eradicated. The last known individual died in 1876, just 43 years after Darwin's arrival.

No conservation measures were ever made to preserve the Falkland Wolf, it was deliberately eradicated. Today, thanks to the work of the Falklands Conservation Organization, the outlook for the island's other residents is far more positive and it is hoped that tragic extinctions such as this will never be repeated.
Falkland Island Wolf skull. Photo from Arkive.
References & Further Reading
Slater GJ, Thalmann O, Leonard JA, Schweizer RM, Koepfli KP, Pollinger JP, Rawlence NJ, Austin JJ, Cooper A, Wayne RK (2009). "Evolutionary history of the Falklands wolf". Current Biology 19 (20): 937-938. <http://download.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/PIIS0960982209016959.pdf?intermediate=true>


Lyras GA, Van Der Geer AAE (2003). "External brain anatomy in relation to the phylogeny of Caninae (Carnivora: Canidae)". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 138 (4): 505–522. <http://users.uoa.gr/~geeraae/publications/2003-Linnean-Caninaebrain.pdf>

"New Clues to Extinct Falklands Wolf Mystery". EurekAlert. Science Daily. 3 November 2009. Retrieved 21 July 2010


Glover, M. A. (June 1942). Extinct and vanishing mammals of the Western Hemispere: with marine species of all oceans”. Cooper Square Publishers. ISBN 978-0-8154-0433-0

Nowak, R.M. (1999). "Walker's Mammals of the World". Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore Maryland

Falklands Conservation (March, 2009). http://www.falklandsconservation.com

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