When you think about different kinds of dogs, you might start visualizing German Shepherds, Greyhounds, Labs and other familiar domestic faces, but the dog family is a big one. Some of them need your help. Around the world, canids are going extinct due to pressures on their habit and way of life, while conservation organizations struggle to save them before it’s too late.
Get ready to learn about some fascinating members of Rover’s extended family, and don’t be surprised if one of these dogs just happens to capture your heart.
1. Maned Wolf (above)
Maned Wolves are native to South America, and they’re not well-known, despite the fact that they literally stand head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. They lead solitary lives, though, which makes them particularly vulnerable to pressures like habitat decrease due to agriculture, a common problem across their native territory. Their numbers in the wild are dwindling rapidly and captive breeding programs are attempting to keep their populations solid, but it’s not looking good for Maned Wolves.
Conservation requires a two-pronged approach. More captive breeding is necessary to keep the gene pool diverse and robust, and ensure that the population doesn’t dip below critical numbers. In addition, more active conservation in South America to set aside natural space for Maned Wolves and other animals is important as well, to create an environment where these animals can live safely without human interference. That requires funds for purchasing and protecting land, as well as cooperative programs to work with the people living in and around Maned Wolf territory who want to be able to use the land as well.
2. San Joaquin Kit Fox
As its name implies, this corgi-like critter used to be abundant in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Once Central California began to be developed, these shy creatures started running out of places to live, and their numbers started to dip as early as the 1930s. Today, they lead out their nocturnal lives along the fringes of their former territory, and it’s tough to count them and track their populations because they’re so furtive. Continued population declines are a concern, though, which has led various groups to work on fox conservation measures to protect them.
The most important measures involve protecting grasslands and native territory so the San Joaquin Kit Fox can continue to live in the wild. Surprisingly, one of the foxes’ allies is cattle ranchers! They want open grassland for their cattle, and work with conservation groups to set aside tracts of land that accommodate both grazing and foxes, demonstrating a great model of cooperation between conservation and industry to balance the needs of nature and people.
3. Red Wolf
One of the world’s most endangered canids, the Red Wolf, used to roam across the Eastern United States. Humans, unfortunately, weren’t thrilled about this, and Red Wolves became a target for “predator management” and other programs, which led to large numbers of wolves being killed in the name of protecting people and livestock. At the same time, their habitat rapidly changed as a result of development, leaving them with few places to live safely.
That all changed in 1967 with an endangered species designation, when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service stepped in to start conserving these rare and beautiful animals. Captive conservation programs work to maintain Red Wolf genetics, while approximately 100 roam free in North Carolina. They have a long way to go, but red wolves might just make it.
Otherwise known as Asian Wild Dogs, Dholes are in a critically uncomfortable position. Their numbers declined so rapidly that researchers almost didn’t get a chance to learn about them before they disappeared, and now they’re scrambling to protect the remaining population and give them a fighting chance at survival in a hostile world. Like Red Wolves, Dholes have been targeted as predators, and they’re also facing habitat pressures that create a challenging environment when it comes to finding a safe place to live.
The most important Dhole research is taking place in the wild, where scientists are working to understand more about how these canids live and what can be done to save them. This involves camera trap studies and other observational tools as well as research on Dhole-human interactions. Without this information, it will be hard to develop an effective conservation strategy.
5. Mexican Gray Wolf
These wolves are among the smallest and most critically endangered of the Gray Wolves, with only limited numbers surviving in their home territory in North America. Like many other North American wolf species, they were targeted with poison, traps and guns for decades under misguided predator control programs before attitudes about wolves and approaches to conservation changed. Now, government agencies are struggling to restore their population before it’s too late to save them, and wildlife organizations are working on outreach and education campaigns to teach people about wolves and their social value.
Captive breeding programs play a role in Mexican Gray Wolf conservation, because so few exist in the wild that it’s critically important to make sure a breeding stock is protected. In addition, controlled numbers of wolves are released and monitored in the wild, with conservation organizations working to build up wild wolf populations to make them more sustainable on their own.
6. Island Fox
This little cutie is found only on the Channel Islands off California’s coast, inhabiting just six of the eight islands. Despite its tiny size, it’s actually a descendant of the Gray Wolf. Its limited range makes it especially vulnerable to habitat destruction, human interference and changes in its natural environment, all critical issues for coastal regions, which tend to be popular for tourism and prone to environmental shifts thanks to climate change.
The conservation strategy for Island Foxes is impressively extensive. It involves managing the populations of all animals on the Channel Islands to keep them stable and ensure that only native species are permitted to live on the islands, maintaining the natural environment these delicate animals are used to. That, together with captive breeding, has made the population surprisingly stable, if quite small!
7. Ethiopian Wolf
Ethiopian Wolves, like their Maned cousins, are lanky, handsome and dwindling in number. An estimated 500 are still living in the wild, found on a limited number of Ethiopian mountains. Their preference for an alpine environment limits the regions they can inhabit, and their range is further limited by human activities in Ethiopia. To make things even more difficult, they’re extremely picky eaters, and thus can’t range too far afield because if they do, they’ll be out of range of their preferred foods.
A conservation program focusing on the wolves protects their environment and maintains captive breeding programs to help protect their genetics. They are regarded as a flagship species for Ethiopia, representing an important part of the nation’s cultural and social history, and international groups are cooperating to ensure they continue to roam the landscape for decades to come.
8. African Wild Dog
These highly intelligent canids prefer pack life on Africa’s savannas, and they have stunningly colorful splashy coats which actually help them blend in with their environment. (Those huge bat ears are, of course, the better to hunt with — hence their alternate name of “hunting dog.”) Their once wide range has been limited by development and other human pressures, isolating them to a few scattered populations across Africa, which represents significant problems for the diversity of the gene pool. They’re excellent predators, but unfortunately that’s not enough to survive in today’s world.
Conservation programs focus on protecting habitat, reaching out to human populations to reduce conflict between people and African Wild Dogs, and using ecotourism to promote maintenance and protection of African Wild Dog populations. All of these measures involve international conservation across numerous governments and agencies, a sometimes tough effort.