Savannah dog, Zorrito vinagre. In Brazil: Cachorro-do-mata, Cachorro-vinagre ("vinegar dog"). In Spanish-speaking countries: Perro vinagre ("Vinegar dog"), Zorro vinagre ("Vinegar fox"), Perro de agua ("Water dog"), Perro de monte ("Bush dog")
The Bush dog is an unusual canid that is rare and little known. It has a somewhat squat body and has an appearance more like a mustelid (badgers and otters are in this family) than a dog species. It has a long, reddish-brown coat and webbed feet, so it is an ideal swimmer in wetlands and tropical rivers.
Bush dogs are rare throughout their range, being Panama, northern South America, southern Brazil, north-eastern Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. They live in semi-deciduous forest, lowland forest, seasonally flooded forest, also cerrado (the huge tropical savanna ecoregion in Brazil) and wet savannas, always living close to water.
Habits and lifestyle
This is an elusive and rare species, and there is very little information about its behavior, as it has been very difficult to locate in the wild to observe. Much of what we know about this species is due to studying captive populations, as well as reports of observations made in the wild. Bush dogs tend to be active during the day, and they are associated with water, most observations of them being in or close to water courses. At night these animals rest in a den, which could be inside the trunk of a fallen tree or an abandoned armadillo nest. Bush dogs live within a social group of as many as 12 members. When hunting, usually at least two individuals are seen together, typically when hunting for large rodents. However, in more open areas it seems that a Bush dog will hunt alone for small rodents. Hunting in packs, they are able to kill prey much bigger than themselves, including capybara. This species produces a wide range of contact calls, perhaps because communication by visual means is not easy in the forest.
pack, kennel, gang, legion, cry, litter (young)
Diet and nutrition
Bush dogs are carnivores and they prey mostly on large rodents including acouchis, pacas and agoutis, and also sometimes upon larger animals, such as rheas and capybaras.
Bush dogs are monogamous and live in extended family groups. The offspring are produced by one alpha female. These animals mate throughout the year. The gestation period lasts up to 67 days, and a litter of between one and six pups is born, the average size being 3-4. Non-breeding group members guard, clean and carry the pups, and males will bring food to the mother in the den. Young are nursed from the age of 8 weeks until 5 months, and they reach reproductive maturity at the age of one year.
There are several serious perceived threats to this species, including human encroachment and intact habitat loss as a result of large-scale agriculture (soybean etc), conversion of land into pasture, and large-scale plantings of monoculture trees (eucalyptus, pine, etc). Illegal poaching is a further threat, as it reduces the prey of the Bush dog. Domestic dog predation and the increased risk of lethal diseases contracted from domestic dogs are further threats, brought about by the proximity to human populations with hunting dogs).
According to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) resource, the total population size of the Bush dog is approximately less than 10,000 individuals. According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Bush dog is predicted to be 110,000 individuals, about half of which are mature individuals, however, due to the threats this species faces, it is suggested that this could be an over-estimate. Population numbers have been estimated for only a few areas: fewer than 100 in Misiones Argentina, over 1,000 in Bolivia and more than 1,000 in a 4,022 km² area in Cusco Peru in the Camisea River region. Currently Bush dogs are classified as Near Threatened (NT) and their numbers today continue to decrease.
As predators, they may have an influence on the numbers of their prey species.
Fun facts for kids
- The Bush dog species is so rare that in the past it was thought to be extinct. They were first discovered by means of fossil records in caves in Brazil, and, having never been witnessed prior to this, it was thought they no longer existed.
- These animals have shown that team work and intelligence are the best way to secure a good meal. When a pack is hunting the paca, the group will divide into two. One half will chase the paca on land, while the other half waits in the water, which is where a paca will usually attempt to escape to.
- Bush dogs make some strange calls, and, even though they are shy animals, they can be rather vocal when necessary, being one way they communicate with each other and warn each other of danger.
- The young of a bush dog are called a ‘pup’ or 'whelp’.’ A female is a ‘bitch’ and a male a ‘dog’ or ‘sire’. A group of bush dogs is a ‘pack’, ‘litter’ (if they are the young), ‘gang’, ‘kennel’ or ‘legion’.
- The reddish coloring of Bush dogs may be the reason for their other nickname, which is ‘zorro’, meaning fox.
- They also have the nickname ‘vinegar dog’ because they smell like vinegar.