extinct-animals-falkland-islands-wolf-aka-dusicyon-australisIts current scientific name is Dusicyon australis, meaning foolish dog of the south, alluding to its lack of fear of man. The Falkland Islands Wolf is larger than any others of the South American canids. It stood up about 60 cm (24 inches) high at the shoulders, and had a brownish-grey fur with black ears and a paler under body.

This species shows also a distinct white tail-tip. This is sometimes regarded, as a sign of domestication, and some skull characters too, seems to point in this direction. It was said that this species did bark just like a domestic dog.

Falkland Islands wolves on West Falkland were smaller, redder and darker, with finer fur. In 1844 Bartholomew Sulivan, second lieutenant on Beagle voyage, wrote to Darwin: “It is quite incorrect what we were told respecting the difference in the Foxes of the two Islands. They are the same both in size and colour. We have never been able to detect any difference.” Oldfield Thomas measured skulls of the East and West Falkland animals and reached opposite conclusion though said “no certainty is possible”, called them Dusicyon darwini of East Falkland and Dusicyon australis of West Falkland. Nowadays these two different Falkland Inlands wolves are sometimes seen as subspecies. Dusicyon australis australis (Kerr, 1792), and Dusicyon australis darwinii (Thomas, 1914).

This species lived on the barren Falkland Islands, nearly 500 km from the South American mainland. It was the only land mammal of these islands. Sometimes two subspecies are named: Dusicyon australis australis (Kerr, 1792), and Dusicyon australis darwinii (Thomas, 1914). D. a. australis lived on West Falkland, and D. a. darwini lived on East Falkland. This species most likely survived on a diet of seabirds, seal pups, and probably even on vegetation. It was the only predatory mammal on the Falklands Islands.

It seems impossible that any dog species could have reached these remote islands on its own and survived the harsh conditions of the Ice Ages, whereas its nearest relative on the mainland would have become extinct. Therefore, it has been suggested that the Falkland Islands Wolf is a result of early domestication, either of a South American species that became extinct, or as the product of an early hybridisation between a form of domestic dog and an as yet unknown South American canid. Prehistoric man brought the dogs to the Falkland Islands during the early Holocene. Here these dogs stayed behind after the first inhabitants of the islands either died out or departed. They sheltered in burrows that they dug themselves.

Captain Strong and the crew of the Welfare first discovered the Falkland Islands Wolf in 1692. He captured one and kept it for several months as the ship’s dog until the animal, started by firing of the ship’s guns, jumped overboard. In 1765 Commodore Byron claimed the Falkland Islands for Great Britain. His account shows that in those days the Falkland Islands Wolf was rather numerous. Byron was the first to bring a skin of this species to Europe. Kerr described the Falkland Islands Wolf officially in 1792.

Despite heavy persecution by Argentinean settlers in the first decades of the 19th century, the Falkland Islands Wolf was still common in 1833, when Charles Darwin visited the islands during his voyage aboard his ship the Beagle. Darwin commented on the tameness of the animals and feared that this might eventually lead to their extinction. He was right! Shortly after the Falkland Islands Wolf was discovered by fur traders from the United States. Trappers holding a piece of meat in one hand and a knife in the other lured the extremely tame animals. By 1840 the species was already extinct in East Falkland.

The final blow came when Scottish settlers started sheep farming on the islands. As they saw it, the Falkland Islands Wolf was becoming a horrifying predator capable of destroying their herds. They set fire to the brushwood, laid poisoned baits and even went so far as to accuse the animal of being a vampire in order to justify its eradication. Once again, a predator paid a high price for man’s stupidity. The last Falkland Islands Wolf has believed to be killed in 1876 at Shallow Bay, in the Hill Cove Canyon, West Falkland. A Falkland Islands Wolf lived in the London Zoo in the United Kingdom in 1868. In December 1870 the zoo got another “Antarctic Wolf”, the surviving half of a pair sent by Mr Byng, the acting colonial secretary of the Falklands. This animal live only a few years. No conservation measures were taken.

Only 11 museum specimens remain today in London (UK), Stockholm (Sweden), Brussels (Belgium), and Leiden (the Netherlands). The drawing above shows a stuffed specimen, which is one of the three specimens from the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden, the Netherlands. — www.petermaas.nl