Wild Canids in South America

The IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group / Canid Species Accounts


The fauna and flora of South America are remarkable for their endemism. The canids of South America are no exception. There are 10 canid species found here, of which 9 are endemic. The 10th species, the gray fox, occurs mainly in North and Central America, extending its range only into northern South America.

The majority of canids found in South America are commonly referred to as "foxes". However, to distinguish the endemic South American Pseudalopex spp. (formerly Dusicyon) and Cerdocyon thous, we refer to these by their Spanish name "zorro". The zorros are found in every habitat on the continent, from the coastal deserts (Sechuran zorro), to the open savanna (grey zorro, culpeo, Azara's zorros). While elsewhere (Asia, Africa) canids invariably shun the rain forest, one species of South American zorro is found in the rain forests (small-eared zorro) and another (the crab-eating zorro) inhabits coastal and lowland forests. In addition to the zorros, there are two rather unusual canids in South America: the maned wolf and the bushdog.

While research in Africa has focused primarily on social behaviour, studies of South American canids have emphasized ecological aspects of their biology, particularly feeding ecology. A recent review of the ecology of South American canids (Medel and Jaksic 1988) provides a good summary of what is known to date.

Nearly every species in South America requires careful monitoring and individual consideration. While no species appears to be endangered, little is known about the absolute and relative abundance of most species. For instance, while we place three species in the category Vulnerable or Rare, each of these species presents very different problems. Little is known about the status, or even the accurate distribution of the bush dog; efforts at captive breeding have been met with little success. The maned wolf, although rare, is being carefully monitored both in Brazil and Argentina. Successful captive breeding programmes have been established and attempts are being made to provide further protection. Finally, the grey zorro is considered by some as extremely common and abundant; yet, other correspondents report that it is rare and declining in much of its range. Given the large international trade in the species (100,000 pelts per year 1980-1985, IUCN 1988), the potential for rapid and irreversible loss of the species is great.

Azara's zorro (Pseudalopex gymnocercus) [formerly (Dusicyon gymnocercus)]

Bush dog (Speothos venaticus)

Crab-eating zorro (Cerdocyon thous)

Culpeo (Pseudalopex culpaeus) [formerly (Dusicyon culpaeus)]

Darwin's zorro (Pseudalopex fulvipes) [at time of 1990 Canid Action Plan thought to be subspecies of Pseudalopex griseus]

Grey Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)

Grey zorro (Pseudalopex griseus) [formerly (Dusicyon griseus)]

Hoary zorro (Pseudalopex vetulus) [formerly (Dusicyon vetulus)]

Maned wolf (Guará) (Chrysocyon brachyurus)

Sechuran zorro (zorro costeño) (Pseudalopex sechurae) [formerly (Dusicyon sechurae)]

Small-eared zorro (Atelocynus microtis) [formerly (Dusicyon microtis)]