Falkland Island Fox

The Falkland Island Fox (Dusicyon australis, formerly named Canis antarcticus), also known as the Warrah and occasionally as the Falkland Island Wolf or Antarctic Wolf, was the only native land mammal of the Falkland Islands. This native canid became extinct in 1876 (on West Falkland island), the only known canid to have gone extinct in historical times.

The fur of the Falkland Island Fox had a tawny color. The tip of the tail was white. The diet is unknown. Due to the absence of native rodents it probably consisted of ground-nesting birds such as geese and penguins, grubs and insects, as well as seashore scavenging. They are sometimes said to have dwelt in burrows.

When Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1833 he named the species Canis antarcticus and described it as common and tame. The settlers regarded the fox as a threat to their sheep and organized poisoning and shooting on a massive scale. The absence of forests led to the speedy success of the extermination campaign. This was facilitated by the animal’s tameness, as is common in insular species due to the absence of predators. Trappers would lure the animal with a chunk of meat held in one hand, and kill it with a knife or stick held in the other

It has been speculated that the unusual distribution of this animal (the only canine native to an oceanic island) and some details of the skull suggest that it originally arrived with natives visiting the islands and was kept by them as a pet in a semi-domesticated state. If that were true, the progenitor form from mainland South America would have become extinct during the last Ice Age. DNA analysis of museum specimens has proved rather inconclusive as to the exact relationship of this animal, some even suggesting hybridization with a relative or progenitor of the coyote. It is not known whether this would have been biologically possible. Another possibility is that, during an Ice Age, a land bridge between Falkland Islands and South America enabled its ancestors to traverse the distance. At any rate, the Falkland Island Fox is a biogeographically mystery.

It is commemorated in the Falkland Islands, by the name of one of West Falkland’s rivers, the Warrah.