Bush dogs in the mountains?

Conservation science uses the tools and methods of science in pursuit of conservation. In pursuit of conservation goals, many conservation scientists find their work also requires patience, determination, and hope. I don’t think a sense of wonder is a requirement to be a conservation scientist, but it is a nice perk to feel wonder, now and then.

It’s always exciting and humbling to see an animal in a camera trap photo and not know what species it is, for at least a few seconds. Then, when you think you know what it is but can’t believe what you’re seeing, the sense of wonder kicks in.

The bush dog is a small, social, species of dog that lives in the tropics of Central and South America. As with the Andean bear, which is the focus of my research program, a lack of knowledge is considered a challenge to its conservation. I suspect that we know less about bush dogs, and Andean bears, than we think we do. Bush dogs are thought to use a variety of habitats, but according to international experts these are primarily lowland animals that may sometimes reach up to 1500m above sea level (4900’ above sea level).

A few years ago I mentioned that we’d obtained camera trap photos of bush dogs at over 2000m in elevation (2130m, or 6988’) and we’ve now obtained camera trap photos of bush dogs at an even higher elevation: 2800m (9200’). For reference, that’s higher than anywhere in 37 of the 50 United States.

So, seeing these photos is like saying that although bush dogs are usually found at elevations below most of the US Midwest and Great Plains, we’re now detecting them at elevations higher than any big city, and most ski resorts, in the US. Wow. The climate and habitat at these higher elevations in the Andes is very different from the Amazonian lowlands, so how are these dogs making a living up so high? We’ve still got a lot of neat stuff to learn!

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