Falkland Island Wolves have the dubious distinction of being the largest land mammal to die out in the last 200 years. These unique creatures were not like the canines found in North America but were quite different. It is only recently that the true facts behind this species have slowly emerged.
Discovery of the Tame Dog
The Falkland Wolf seemed to be fated for extinction. Charles Darwin on his way through the region described these dogs as common and tame, in 1833. The Falkland Islands being on the southern tip of South America received few visitors and thus even though the first sighting of the wolves was in the year 1692 they remained very common until a bounty was put on them in the mid 1800’s. By 1840 the small canid was extinct on East Falkland. The settlers that finally settled on the Falklands viewed the wolves as a pest and organized attempts to poison and kill them. The last Falkland Island Wolf was shot by a hunter in 1876.
Differences in South American Canids and Theories of Colonization
First of all the South American branch of the canid family tree is rather strange. Most of the canids that the world is familiar with are those from the genus Canis such as the Gray Wolf or the domesticated dog. The genus of the Falkland Wolf is Dusicyon and in the modern era was the only known member from its genus, though it was classified and reclassified several times in several different genus groupings. Other South American canids were also put into the Dusicyon, but since new DNA evidence has come about have had to be removed. Currently the closest relative to the Falkland Island Wolf is the Maned Wolf that frequents the grasslands of South America.
The Falkland Islands lie about 500 miles from the mainland of South America. This prevents the spread of many species to it. This allowed the wolf to flourish and have no innate fear of humans since they had no contact with man, much like the Dodo. They were the top predators in their environment and as such unafraid of anything.
But how did the wolf make it to the islands? Many theories have been put forward but most biologist find the following two the most possible. First there is the theory that former human inhabitants who had since died or left brought the wolves to the islands. Others support the theory that the canids found their way to the islands from a land bridge that now doesn’t exist or other more common island colonization methods such as floating on debris or an ice flow.
Genetic Testing and Analysis
This is where the relationship to the Maned Wolf was discovered. Further examinations showed that the closest relative of the Falkland Island Wolf, the Maned Wolf, diverged from the other about 6.7 million years ago. This though puts the two species in North America due to the fact that canid fossils have only been found in South America from around 3 million years ago (after the establishment of the Panama Isthmus). The last common ancestor shared by the two species appears in mitochondrial DNA around 70,000 years ago. This gives a substantial blow to the human transportation theory due to the fact humans have only been concretely documented in South America since around 62,000 years ago (Though this could change due to some interesting observations and sites that hopefully could prove a human presence much older than the 62,000 year figure).
Often times humanity dose not realize they have lost something special until it is already gone. This is the case of the Falkland Island Wolf. The scientific studies that could have been gained as well as the cultural heritage that could have been saved now is gone forever.
Falkland Island Wolf
Recently Extinct Animals
Whence the Falklands Wolf