Small-eared zorro (Atelocynus microtis)

Also known as: Short-eared dog, short-eared fox, small-eared dog
French: Renard à petites oreilles
Spanish: Perro de Monte, Perro de Orejas Cortas, Zorro Negro, Zorro Ojizarco
GenusAtelocynus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 72 - 100 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 35 cm (2)
Tail length: 24 - 35 cm (2)
Weight9 - 10 kg (2)

The small-eared zorro is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A little known and notoriously elusive wild dog from South America (3), the enigmatic small-eared zorro (Atelocynus microtis) owes its common name to its fox-like appearance (zorro is Spanish for fox), as it has a long, slender muzzle, a dark, bushy tail and short, rounded ears (4) (5). The fur of the small-eared zorro is short and dense – either an adaptation to a habitat in which rain is frequent or to a partially aquatic lifestyle (4) – and is typically dark brown in colour, with scattered white hairs on the upperparts creating a grizzled appearance (6). Some individuals may have small white patches on the throat and groin (6). Its movements are more graceful than those of most dogs, being more cat-like than canine (4).

The small-eared zorro occurs in the Amazon basin in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil (1).

The small-eared zorro inhabits undisturbed rainforest in the Amazon lowlands, where it is thought to favour areas close to rivers and creeks (5).     

Due to its elusive nature, there is not a great deal of information on the small-eared zorro in the wild. It is known to be a largely solitary creature, although it has been seen hunting in pairs, and while it is largely diurnal, it has also been observed active at night. It has an incredibly varied diet; it primarily eats fish but also consumes insects, mammals (including agoutis, marsupials and small rodents), birds, reptiles, frogs and fruit (5).

Based on the quantity of fish in its diet, combined with the partial membrane between the digits of its feet, the small-eared zorro is believed to be at least partially aquatic (3).

It is thought that the female small-eared zorro gives birth in May or June, using the burrows of other animals or hollow logs as a den for the young (5).

The greatest threats faced by the small-eared zorro are diseases contracted from domestic dogs and habitat loss, as a result of the large-scale forest conversion that is taking place in the Amazon basin. Although no diseases have yet been reported in the small-eared zorro, canine diseases are common amongst domestic dogs in the region and could feasibly be transmitted to the wild small-eared zorro, with potentially devastating consequences (5).

Although the small-eared zorro is protected on paper in most countries in which it occurs, this has not yet been backed up by specific conservation actions, although its presence was a major factor for conservation efforts in Alto Purus National Park, Peru (7) and in the Jamari National Forest, western Brazil (8).

The small-eared zorro is likely to occur in most protected areas that encompass large tracts of undisturbed forest in western Amazonia. During the last decade, its presence has been confirmed in several protected areas in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru (9).

Further information needs to be gained on this species’ biology and ecology, especially a true estimate of its population density and its habitat requirements, in order to properly inform any future conservation measures (5) (9). New GPS tracking technology will enable density, habitat use and home-range studies to be undertaken which will greatly improve the state of knowledge of this enigmatic wild dog (9).

For further information on the conservation of the small-eared zorro and other canids see:

 To find out about wildlife conservation in the Amazon basin see:

Authenticated (20/05/11) by Dr. Renata Leite Pitman. IUCN-SSC Canid Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2010)
  2. Nowak, R.M. (2005) Walker’s Carnivores of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  3. Macdonald, D.W. and Sillero-Zubiri, C. (2004) Biology and Conservation of Wild Canids. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
  5. Leite Pitman, M.R.P. and Williams, R.S.R. (2004) The short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis). In: Sillero-Zubiri, C., Hoffman, M. and Macdonald, D.W. (Eds.) Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals and Dog: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Cambridge. Available at:
  6. Eisenberg, J.F. and Redford, K.H. (1999) Mammals of the Neotropics. Volume 3: The Central Neotropics. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  7. Leite Pitman, M.R.P., Beck, H. and Velazco, P. (2003)  Mamíferos terrestres y arbóreos de la selva baja de la Amazonía peruana entre los ríos Manu y Alto Purús. In: Leite Pitman, M.R.P., Pitman, N.C.A. and Alvarez, P.C. (Eds.) Alto Purús: Biodiversidad, Conservación y Manejo. Center for Tropical Conservation and INRENA, Perú.
  8. Koester, A.D., Azevedo, C.R., Vogliotti, A. and Duarte, J.M.B. (2008) Ocorrência de Atelocynus microtis (Sclater, 1882) na Floresta Nacional do Jamari, estado de Rondônia. Biota Neotropica, 8(4): 231-234.
  9. Leite Pitman, M.R.P. (May, 2011) Pers. comm.