Falkland Island wolf (Dusicyon australis)
|Also known as:||Falklands wolf|
|Size||Head-body length: 97 cm (2)|
Tail length: 28.5 cm (2)
Classified as Extinct (EX) on the IUCN Red List (1).
When Charles Darwin first encountered the Falkland Island wolf in 1833, he noted that its population was already in decline, and predicted that, with the arrival of permanent settlers, its extinction would be assured (2) (3). Sadly, his prediction proved to be accurate, as within the space of just 50 years this remarkable species had entirely disappeared (2).
The Falkland Island wolf was a medium-sized, fox-like canine, with a soft, thick coat, brownish-red on the upperparts with fine white speckling, and pale brown on the underparts. The head was relatively short and broad, with small ears, while the tail was short and bushy, with a distinctive white tip (2).
The Falkland Island wolf was endemic to the East and West Falkland Islands, located over 400 kilometres east of southern Argentina (2).
The Falkland Island wolf ranged throughout the Falkland Islands (2), where the climate is temperate, and the habitat generally comprises rocky scrub, grassland, bogs and marshland (4).
An enigmatic species, the Falkland Island wolf was the only native, terrestrial mammal found on the Falkland Islands, a fact which is puzzling given the absence of more adaptable, widespread species such as rats (2) (5). Two theories have been proposed to explain this species’ origin. The first is that the Falkland Island wolf was brought to the islands as a domestic animal by prehistoric indigenous peoples, while the second proposes that this species crossed a natural land bridge to the islands during the last Ice Age, when the sea-level was much lower than today (2). Although some would claim that the Falkland Island wolf’s remarkable tameness indicated its domestic ancestry, it has also been argued that such behaviour is also common in native, long-isolated island species (5).
The Falkland Island wolf was observed to feed on birds, especially geese, as well as pinnipeds. Unfortunately, little else is known of this species’ biology (2).
Darwin noted that as a result of the Falkland Island wolf’s tameness, it proved to be an easy target for hunters, and was often killed by offering meat with one hand, while stabbing the animal with a knife held in the other (3). As increasing numbers of visits were made to the island during the 1800s, Falkland Island wolf numbers began to dwindle. In 1839, the arrival of fur traders from the United States led to huge population declines as a result of hunting. However, it was the arrival of Scottish settlers in the 1860s that sealed this species’ fate. In order to prevent the Falkland Island wolves from preying upon their livestock, the settlers began a poisoning campaign, systematically eradicating the entire population, until the death of the last individual in 1876 (2) (5).
No conservation measures were employed for the Falkland Island wolf; sadly, this unique species was deliberately eradicated (1). Today, thanks to the work of the Falklands Conservation organisation, the situation for Falkland Islands’ wildlife is far more positive, and it is hoped that tragic extinctions like that of the Falkland Island wolf will never be repeated (4).
To learn more about the Falklands Conservation organisation visit:
- Falklands Conservation:
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- Endemic: a species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- Pinnipeds: carnivorous, aquatic mammals belonging to the Pinnipedia, which includes the seals, sea lions and walruses. All have four limbs modified into flippers.
IUCN Red List (November, 2008)
- Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
Darwin, C.R. (1839) Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe. Journal and remarks. 1832-1836. Henry Colburn, London. Available at:
Falklands Conservation (March, 2009)
- Flannery, T. and Schouten, P. (2002) A Gap in Nature. Random House, London.