The living ghost dogs that haunt the Amazon (travel to Peru, local fauna)

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INTRO: Deep in the Amazon rainforest, there are mysterious canines with short ears, pointy noses, and bushy tails that roam the undergrowth. The creatures, which are one of the least studied variety of dogs on the planet, are rarely seen even by scientists who have spent years studying the region.

Officially, they’re called short-eared dogs, but they’re so elusive that they’re often referred to by the much cooler moniker of “ghost dogs.” [...] Veterinary physician Renata Leite Pitman ... has devoted years of her life to studying ghost dogs. ... an advisor told Leite Pitman about his research project in the Peruvian Amazon. At the biological research station where he worked, his team had 10 encounters with the mysterious creatures in as many years.

“That’s a lot,” she told Earther. “There were almost no records of them at the time ... only two studies with records of encountering them. I thought, I need to ... get over to this place.”

[...] In late 2006, an opportunity arose to get super up close and personal with a ghost dog. ... The man had named him Oso ... she went to visit Oso at the man’s house ... After a year of trying to convince the man to let her reintegrate Oso into the wild, the man agreed to do so ... Leite Pitman was delighted -- she’d see to it that the animal was re-acclimated to the forest, and along the way, would have an ideal research subject. ... one of the first things she noticed when she saw a short-eared dog in person was, weirdly, how small it’s testicles were. Bizarrely, that fact would turn out to be important for her research.

[...] At first he behaved like the domesticated animal he was, but after a year, now two-year-old Oso toughened up. ... Around the time he turned three, his balls dropped -- a weird thing to notice for most people, but a key piece of information for a scientist. This suggested that a major reason that the dogs are so rarely spotted is that they don’t reach sexual maturity until they’re three years old, which is really late for canines. Most dogs can reproduce at just one year old. This puts ghost dogs at a huge disadvantage for survival because many of them die before they are old enough to reproduce.

[...] Leite Pitman has continued to study the rare species. Scientists don’t have exact population estimates, but she thinks there’s fewer than 15,000 of them left. In addition to the challenges they face due to reaching sexual maturity at a relatively late age, the animals are also put at risk by hunters’ domestic dogs, which can spread deadly viruses the ghost dogs have no natural defenses against. In the future, they’ll face even more danger. This year, Leite Pitman coauthored a study that found 30% of the area they inhabit is threatened by deforestation for farming, logging, and mining... (MORE - details)

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