The Culpeo is a South American fox species. It is the second-largest native canid on the continent, after the Maned wolf. Culpeos have grey and reddish fur, a white chin, reddish legs and a stripe on their back that may be barely visible. The neck and shoulders are often tawny to rufous in color, while the upper back is dark. The bushy tail has a black tip.
Culpeos are found in South America. Their range extends from Ecuador and Peru to the southern regions of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Some populations live in the southern regions of Colombia. Culpeos are most common on the western slopes of the Andes. These animals live in a wide variety of habitats including broadleaf temperate southern beech forest, sclerophyllous matorral, rugged and mountain terrain, deep valleys, deserts, and high plateaus, like the Altiplano.
Culpeos are generally solitary creatures except during the breeding season. During this time they are found with their mates and offspring. Time of activity depends on location. Culpeos that live in Argentina, the Chilean desert, Magallanes Culpeos, and highland Peru are active during the night, while those living in central Chile are diurnal or crepuscular. In order to communicate with each other, these animals use physical cues, scents, postures, and sounds. They have been seen making mixed growls and scream noises.
These omnivorous animals are opportunistic predators that will take any variety of prey. They are mainly carnivores hunting on rodents, rabbits, birds, and lizards. Culpeos also eat eggs of different reptiles and birds, carrion and sometimes plants and fruit.
Little is known about the mating system in culpeos. The breeding season occurs between August and October. After a gestation period of 55-60 days, the female gives birth usually to between 2 and 5 pups. Young are born naked, with the eyes closed. They weigh around 170 grams. Pups are usually weaned at 2 months of age and reach full size when they are 7 months old. Reproductive maturity is reached after about 1 year of age.
Main threats to these animals include hunting and persecution, and trapping for their fur. Culpeos attack livestock and poultry on occasion and are therefore often hunted or poisoned.
According to IUCN, the culpeo is abundant and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.
Culpeos play a very important role in their ecosystem. As predators of various species, culpeos control their population. They also play an important role in seed dispersal as they eat fruits. It's even recorded that especially the seeds of peumo and Peruvian pepper germinate at higher rates if defecated by culpeos. By eating the carrion, these animals also help in biodegradation.
Culpeos were domesticated in order to form the Fuegian dog, but this animal became extinct sometime between 1880 and 1919.