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Canines are a diverse family of animals. Around the world, there are more endangered species of dogs than you may know. Here’s an interesting list of four species in trouble.
The Ethiopian wolf is perhaps the most threatened canid species in the world and also unique in that it is the only wolf species in all of Africa. This red, coyote-like canine is endemic to the Ethiopian highlands, existing nowhere else in the world. Today, there are a mere 500 wolves restricted to just 7 mountain ranges in Ethiopia.
Extreme loss of habitat from agricultural development, diseases like rabies and distemper transferred from domestic dogs, and persecution by local farmers are the major threats to the species. The Ethiopian wolf is listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
African Wild Dog
The African wild dog is also listed as Endangered by IUCN, with fewer than 7,000 remaining in the wild. According the IUCN, this species has disappeared from much of its former range, encompassing what used to be all of sub-Saharan Africa. Today, the largest populations persist in southern and eastern Africa.
Also known as the painted dog, due to its distinctive coloration unique to each individual, the African wild dog is an obligate cooperative breeder. Each pack is controlled by an alpha breeding pair, but every member is expected to care for the young. Painted dogs are intensely social and are among the fastest and most efficient predators in Africa.
These dogs are extremely sensitive to habitat fragmentation. Small populations living in low densities leave this species at an increased risk of a local extinction event, such as a rapid disease outbreak. Disintegration of packs may also cause subpopulation size to fluctuate naturally, and competition from larger predator species like lions and hyenas keep wild dog numbers low.
Other threats to wild dogs include human encroachment, retaliatory killings to protect livestock, and snaring by poachers. More incentive for tolerance of this predator species is needed for long-term sustainability.
Darwin’s fox is one of the smallest fox species, and is among the least well-known canids. The fox was discovered by Charles Darwin in 1832 during his famous voyage aboard the Beagle and has been protected in Chile since 1929.
Endemic to Chile, only two populations are known to exist in the forests of Chiloé Island and on the coastal mountains of Nahuelbuta National Park. Small population sizes and restricted range make this species extremely vulnerable to extinction. On the mainland, foxes are sometimes attacked by domestic dogs and may contract diseases. The island population is somewhat safer, but suffers from habitat loss and poaching. The IUCN officially lists Darwin’s fox as Critically Endangered.
A fourth and highly endangered canine species that is not widely known is the dhole, or wild dog of Asia. This dog species may have fewer than 2,500 mature individuals left across the entire Asian continent. Also known as Asian wild dog, Indian wild dog, or just red dog, dhole historically ranged throughout India, north into Korea, China and Russia, and south into Malaysia and Indonesia as far as Java.
With most of their habitat gone, tiger reserves in India and Nepal are now the only strongholds remaining for the dogs. Dholes are most common in central and southern India, where they are protected by the Wildlife Act of 1972. Habitat loss, depletion of prey, interspecific competition, disease transfer from domestic dogs, and persecution from humans continue to threaten the species.
Dhole have the thickest muzzle of any canine. Similar to the African wild dog, they are social animals, hunting in large packs. Information on population numbers is lacking, and more data is needed to fully assess this species status.
Other interesting canine species listed as near threatened include the bush dog, maned wolf, Sechura fox, short-eared dog, and island fox. Unfortunately, these dogs receive little conservation funding and are often overshadowed by the more charismatic megafauna. Elephants and rhinos generally get the lion’s share of conservation dollars in Africa and Asia. In Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, for example, the African wild dog population has experienced worse declines than the elephants currently facing a poaching crisis. Zimbabwe actually has around 83,000 elephants, well over carrying capacity, but only 150 wild dogs. Increased awareness, tolerance, and funding for these unique and endangered canine species are needed around the world.
For more information on endangered canine species, visit the IUCN Canid Specialist Group.
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