Rare-Dog Search Meets With Success, Then Tragedy

John Roach
for National Geographic News
October 18, 2002

Success followed by sudden heartbreak befell researchers this summer at a remote outpost in the Peruvian Amazon.

The researchers, who are conducting the first detailed study of the elusive short-eared dog, spent three years trying to capture one in the wild. Very little is known about the extremely rare canine's habits.

They finally succeeded in August, capturing a dog on the edge of the Alto Purus Reserved Zone, a recently protected area of the Amazon in southeastern Peru. It was fitted with a collar and released.

Two weeks later, the dog was shot and killed.

"The whole situation seemed like a horrible nightmare. It still seems that way now," said Maria Renata Pereira Leite-Pitman, a research associate at Duke University's Center for Tropical Conservation, who is leading the study.

The person who shot the dog, a Sharanahua subsistence hunter, told Leite that it was an accident, saying he had been hunting for four days with no success and instinctively shot the first thing he saw.

There is no legal remedy available to Leite. Since virtually nothing is known about the rare dog, (Atelocynus microtis), there is no scientific basis for its protection under local or international laws, she said.

Leite hoped the radio collar would provide basic data about the dog's habits—when it is most active, where it goes, how it finds food, where it rests. They want to know how much habitat the dog needs to survive.

Ultimately she hopes the information can be used to raise the protection level of Alto Purus from "Reserved Zone" to national park status. Under such a status, hunting with guns is allowed only in controlled areas.

"Renata's work may give the park impetus an added boost, but I doubt it will be in any way decisive," said John Terborgh, director of the Center for Tropical Conservation (CTC). "The role of research in conservation is largely an indirect one."

Conservation Science

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