A small, elusive short-eared dog endemic to secluded parts of the Amazon river basin has long mystified scientists. Just loosely related to pet dogs, Atelocynus microtis, known as the short-eared dog or zorro, remains to this day one of the “most understudied wild dogs” in the world. Now, new research published in the journal Royal Society Open Science suggests that the native short-eared dog may be at risk from deforestation
Most of what is currently known about the solitary dogs is based on anecdotal or opportunistic evidence largely due to their notoriously shy nature, a challenge for conservation efforts looking to protect the canines from expanding human encroachment.
To illuminate the habitat and behavior of the Amazonian wild dogs, researchers set camera traps across a wide swath of the animal’s territory to determine where and when they frequented. Terrain maps created from this information, as well as hundreds of observations that collected from a short-eared dog database, were cross-referenced with areas designated for future deforestation plans.
The dogs were shown to prefer lush, untouched forests and were largely distributed across an “extensive and continuous area” through most of the Amazon region south of the Amazon River. About 30 percent of their current distribution is projected to suffer sharp declines in habitat by 2027 from forest lost. It's already estimated that about one-quarter of the Amazon’s mammal species are predicted to lose considerable amounts of their habitats.
In short, the land available to the dogs is shrinking, putting the animals at a greater risk from deforestation that previously thought.
“The persistent high deforestation rate and fragmentation of the Amazon forests are the main threats to their biodiversity,” write the study authors. “To anticipate and mitigate these threats, it is important to understand and predict how species respond to the rapidly changing landscape.
Currently, the animals’ decreasing population trend means it is considered “near threatened” by the IUCN Red List of Species, though the last population assessment was nearly a decade ago. Researchers suggest experts should reconsider the dogs’ conservation status and reclassify the animals as vulnerable.
“Beyond shedding light on the ecology of the short-eared dog and refining its distribution range, our results stress that forest loss poses a serious threat to the conservation of the species in a short time frame,” the study authors conclude.