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Fuegian dog

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Two Fuegian dogs: Katekita (female) and Tapan (male)

The Fuegian dog, or Yahgan dog, or Patagonian dog (Spanish: perro fueguino, perro yagán, perro patagónico), is an extinct type of canid. In comparison to the domestic dog's ancient wolf ancestry, the Fuegian dog was traditionally thought to be bred and domesticated from the South American culpeo, also known as the culpeo fox (Lycalopex culpaeus).[1] However, 2023 research suggested that the traditional accounts of the Fuegian dog were in fact two different animals.[2] The culpeo itself is similar (in form and stature) to true foxes (tribe Vulpini), though it is closer, genetically, to wolves, coyotes and jackals (true canids, tribe Canini); thus it is placed in a separate genus within the South American foxes or zorros.

There are very few remaining museum specimens or examples of the Fuegian dog; one is at the Museo Salesiano Maggiorino Borgatello in Chile,[2] and another is at the Fagnano Regional Museum in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.[1]


Petrigh and Fugassa conducted a genetic investigation in 2013 using hair samples from taxidermized specimens of Fuegian dogs, belonging to a collection of the Fagnano Regional Museum, in Rio Grande. The DNA from the hair samples was compared with that of various canids that inhabit Patagonia, such as the culpeo (Lycalopex culpaeus), the South American gray fox (Lycalopex griseus) and the Pampas fox (Lycalopex gymnocercus), and with that of domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). This analysis showed a greater similarity between the Fuegian dog and the culpeo (97.57%), than with the domestic dog (88.93%). These results were supported by molecular phylogenetic analysis, suggesting an atypical domestication of culpeos by hunter-gatherers inhabiting Patagonia.[1]

In a review of historical accounts and the current scientific literature, by Jaksic and Castro in 2023, they argued that the Fuegian dog was in fact two different animals, which they labelled as the Fuegian dog and the Patagonian dog. In their analysis, the Patagonian dog, used by the Selk'nam, Aonikenk, and Manek'enk peoples, was a domesticated breed descended from the culpeo, whereas the Fuegian dog, used by the Chonos, Kawesqar, and Yahgan peoples, was descended from an ancestral domestic dog population brought across the Bering Strait.[2]


One artist's interpretation of a Fuegian dog

Fuegian dogs had erect ears, sharp snout, longer straight fur, and a thick tail and were tawny-colored or entirely white.[3][4] Surviving images show them to be a similar size to the wild culpeo, which weighs 5 to 13.5 kg (11 to 30 lb), or roughly the size of a Shetland Sheepdog. Samuel Kirkland Lothrop reported that their height ranged from 11 to 20 inches,[5] while Ricardo E. Latcham reported them as being over 60 to 23.6 cm (23.6 to 9.3 in).[4] Gauchos called these foxes "maned dogs" because of their resemblance to the maned wolf. Lucas Bridges described the animals as like "a stunted cross between an Alsatian police dog and a wolf".[6]

It was described by French navigator Louis-Ferdinand Martial [fr; es], who headed the 1883 scientific expedition to Cape Horn, as "ugly, with long tawny hair and a sharp snout, it looks quite like a fox".[7] In line with Jaksic and Castro's delineation into two separate animals, observations of Europeans described a smaller lighter colored dog that were employed in hunting tuco-tucos, and a larger darker colored dog that was employed in hunting guanacos.[4]


Although the distribution of the Fuegian dog corresponded with that of the Yahgan people, individual animals may not have been protective of their human owners. According to Julius Popper the canid exhibited a lack of loyalty: "I never saw them, no matter how large their number, take an aggressive attitude or defend their masters when these were in danger".[8]


Selk'nam hunting together with Fuegian dogs.

While Julius Popper did not observe the dogs being of use in hunts,[8] Antonio Coiazzi did record their use in hunting and this has been supported by later research.[9][4] Darwin commented in his 1839 work The Voyage of the Beagle that he had been told by a native child that they caught otters for them.[10] This was later supported by Martial's reporting.[7]

All sources agree that the dogs also provided a source of warmth in shelters as they would arrange themselves to sleep tightly against and around the Selk'nam.[8][9][3][11] This was noted by Julius Popper stating: "The dogs placed themselves in a group around the small Onas, taking the shape of a kind of wrapping .... [M]y opinion is that the Fuegian dogs are only useful to complete the defective garment of the Indian, or better, as the Ona's heating furniture".[8]


Colorized artist's interpretation of a Fuegian dog

In 1919, when Silesian missionary Martin Gusinde visited the local Yahgans, he noticed that, to his knowledge, all of the dogs seemed to be missing. He immediately noted this as odd, especially considering that the tie between the dogs and the local people was well documented by foreign missionaries and explorers by this time. Indeed, this mutual cooperation allowed for the region to become the only stronghold of this unusual domesticated canine to have ever existed. Upon speaking to the local people and inquiring about what had happened to the animals, he was told that the entire known population of them had been exterminated, and it was claimed they "were dangerous to men and cattle".[12] Apparently, this "fierce" nature of the animal was allegedly witnessed by Thomas Bridges in the 1880s, who in his writings, purported that the dogs attacked his mission's goats, while giving few specific details.[13]

As part of the campaign of the Selk'nam genocide, the dogs were hunted by European ranchers and headhunters due to its use in hunting and home making among the Selk'nam.[14] This was the main cause of their extinction.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Petrigh, Romina S.; Fugassa, Martín H. (December 13, 2013). "Molecular identification of a Fuegian dog belonging to the Fagnano Regional Museum ethnographic collection, Tierra del Fuego" (PDF). Quaternary International. 317: 14–18. Bibcode:2013QuInt.317...14P. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2013.07.030. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 20, 2016. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Jaksic, Fabian M.; Castro, Sergio A. (2023). "The identity of Fuegian and Patagonian "dogs" among indigenous peoples in southernmost South America". Revista Chilena de Historia Natural. 96 5. doi:10.1186/s40693-023-00119-z.
  3. ^ a b Spears, John (1895). The Gold Diggings of Cape Horn: A study of Life in Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia. New York. p. 73. ISBN 9-7805-4834-724-9.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  4. ^ a b c d Alonso Marchante 2019, p. 75.
  5. ^ Lothrop 1928, p. 33.
  6. ^ Bridges, Lucas (2008) [1948]. The Uttermost Part of the Earth. p. 97.
  7. ^ a b Martial, Louis-Ferdinand [in French] (2005) [1884–1889]. Mision al Cabo de Hornos, la expedición científica francesa en la Romanche Julio de 1882 a setiembre de 1883 [Mission to Cape Horn, the French scientific expedition in Romanche July 1882 to September 1883] (in Spanish). Ushuaia, Argentina: Zaguier & Urruty Pubs. p. 225.
  8. ^ a b c d Popper, Julio [Julius] (1887). "Exploración de la Tierra del Fuego" [Exploration of Tierra del Fuego]. Expedición Popper: Conferencia dada en en Instituto Geográfico Argentino el 5 de Marzo de 1887 (in Spanish). Ecuador: Instituto Geográfico Militar – via Biblioteca Virtual, Museo del Fin del Mundo. Text also available in this collected-writings book:
    Popper, Julio [Julius]. Atlanta – Proyecto para la creación de un pueblo marítimo en Tierra del Fuego y otros escritos [Atlanta – Project for the creation of a maritime town in Tierra del Fuego and other writings] (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Editorial Eudeba. Archived from the original on 2023-03-28. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  9. ^ a b Coiazzi, Antonio (1997) [1914]. Los indios del Archipiélago Fueguino [The Indians of the Fuegian Archipelago] (in Spanish). Punta Arenas: Atelí.
  10. ^ Darwin, Charles (1909). "Tierra del Fuego". The Voyage of the Beagle. p. 219.
  11. ^ Lothrop 1928, pp. 59–60.
  12. ^ Gusinde, Martin (1920). "Expedición a la Tierra del Fuego" [Expedition to Tierra del Fuego]. Publicaciones del Museo de Etnología y Antropología de Chile (in Spanish). II (1). Santiago de Chile: Imprenta Cervantes: 157.
  13. ^ Orquera, L.; Piana, E. (1999). La vida material y social de los Yámana [The material and social life of the Yámana] (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Editorial Eudeba. pp. 178–180.
  14. ^ a b Gigoux, Carlos (2022). ""Condemned to Disappear": Indigenous Genocide in Tierra del Fuego". Journal of Genocide Research. 24 (1): 1–22 [13]. doi:10.1080/14623528.2020.1853359.

Works cited[edit]

  • Alonso Marchante, José Luis (2019). "Cazadores del viento" [Hunters of the Wind]. Selk'nam: Genocidio y resistencia [Selk'nam: Genocide and Resistance] (in Spanish). Santiago de Chile; Catalonia. ISBN 978-956-324-749-7.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Lothrop, Samuel Kirkland (1928). The Indians of Tierra del Feugo. Contributions from the Museum of the American Indian. Vol. X. Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation.