Thursday, 23 April 2020

Whether famous or obscure, Earth's wild creatures cannot hide from the hand of man.

Just months ago, billions of animals, including iconic kangaroos and cuddly koalas, perished in Australia's calamitous bushfires, found by scientists to have been worsened by manmade climate change. Now, researchers say, one of the Amazon's least-known species could be all but gone, too in scant decades. Its habitat is being relentlessly slashed and burned to make way for agriculture. 
by Larry Powell
The elusive short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis). 
This rare photo was captured on a camera-trap, 
 deep in the Amazon rainforest. Photo credit: 
Guido Ayala and Rob Wallace. 
Most of us know there are wild dogs living in remote places of the world. Australia's dingo probably leaps to mind first. 

But did you also know that a cousin of the dingo (above) has been roaming quietly through vast areas of Amazon rainforests, in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil for a long time?

Atelocynus microtis - the "short-eared" dog is the only canidor
mammal of the dog family, native to the Amazon. 

Arguably, it's been the least-studied of any wild dog on the planet - until now. 

Using the largest data base ever compiled on the species, scientists are now able to better understand the predicament it faces in its rapidly-changing home.

In the words of a research paper published this week in The Royal Society of Open Science, "Forest loss and fragmentation pose a serious threat to the species in a short time frame."

Within three generations, (six years is considered a generation to a short-ear), anywhere from 30% to 60% of its habitat will likely be lost or seriously degraded. That's because plans by local governments for large-scale agriculture, cattle-ranching and infrastructure expansion, remain in the works. 

In 2011, Brazil drastically relaxed laws protecting its forests. Private landowners no longer had to protect as much as they once did. Illegal loggers were granted amnesty. By 2013, after a decade of decline, deforestation rates began to climb. 

The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, fired a top scientist last year for revealing that that country's deforestation rates were increasing rapidly under his watch.

And, since last summer, losses of Amazonian rainforest due to wildfires have been described in a Science magazine article as staggering. In Bolivia alone, more than a million hectares have burned since then. Much of it was due to intentional burning to clear land for crops and livestock. 

It is against this grim backdrop that these new research findings have come to light.

While short-eared dogs are expected to do better in areas that are protected, as many as 40% of them live in the "Arc of Deforesation," a part of Brazil where tree cover is disappearing the fastest. 

Vast areas are expected to transition from forests to savannahs, or grassland eco-systems, not nearly as favourable for the carnivorous animals.

But habitat loss isn't the only threat. The dogs are catching diseases from domesticated dogs and becoming road kill after being run over on roadways. 

The researchers suggest, therefore, the short-eared dog be "bumped up" the list of endangered species to a status that better reflects the danger it faces.

Then there's this chilling footnote. One out of every four mammals in the Amazon, will be losing much of their habitat, too.

Until man somehow finds a deeper appreciation and respect for our fellow creatures, these tragedies will only deepen.

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