A newly published Smithsonian study, features something you may not have seen before: photos of the ever-elusive bush dogs of Central and South America that are more cat-sized than what you would expect to see from a member of the canid family.
New bush dog photos took a lot of doing
I will continue to maintain that I’ve seen one when I lived in Boquete, Panama near the Costa Rica border. My friends will continue to maintain that I was stoned but that’s another story. The bush dogs in question are, while elusive, highly-social animals that are cat-sized (and considerably more social than cats) and look more like bear cubs with webbed-feet that dogs.
What are the chances that I saw one and how often are they photographed?
Well, “to give some idea of the difficulty of studying the species,” according to a statement from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, “photos were obtained on only 11 occasions out of more than almost 32,000 camera-days (the number of cameras multiplied by the number of days they were in operation).”
The camera trap’s location in the tropical forests of Pirre, Darién Province of Panama is about as far as you can get from my “sighting” on the other end of the nation best known for its canal.
The bush dogs captured in the camera trap were not the subject of the study at all, but the photos are a welcome byproduct of the study.
A co-author of the study, Smithsonian Research Associate Ricardo Moreno, said, “Our group of biologists from Yaguará Panama and collaborators are working on an article about big mammals using camera trapping data that spans Panama from the Costa Rican border to the Colombian border. The bush dog is one of the rarest species that we photograph.”
Bush dogs’ habitat is shrinking
Despite their elusiveness, scientists with the International Union for Conservation of Nature believe that bush dog populations have declined by about 25% in just over a decade and have deemed the bush dog a “nearly threatened” species.
“Fifteen percent of Panama’s forests were lost between 1990 and 2010,” the organization says. And, “bush dogs have very large home ranges for animals of their size, as much as 270 square miles, and they may require large tracts of forest to survive. Other threats include reduction of the abundance of their prey from hunting by humans and exposure to diseases carried by dogs used by hunters.”
The dogs are fantastic swimmers and pack hunters which concentrate their efforts primarily on large rodents but enjoy snacking on armadillos when they cross paths.
“Bush dogs, Speothos venaticus, are short-legged and stubby, standing only about a foot tall at the shoulder,” according to Smithsonian. “They live mainly in tropical forests but have also been recorded in fragmented and altered habitats. Hunting in packs of up to 10 animals, bush dogs give high-pitched whines to maintain contact and yap like puppies when they chase their prey. They feed mostly on large forest rodents like agoutis and pacas, but at one site in Brazil, they mainly ate armadillos. Fierce for their size, a pack of six once was seen chasing a tapir, an animal almost 20 times a bush dog’s weight. Although active by day, bush dogs are remarkably hard to see and are very rarely reported even where they are known to occur.”