The Falkland Islands and South Atlantic
WARRAH Dusicyon australis -Life and behaviourWarrah fur courtesy of Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet, Stockholm. Adult dog Warrah collected by J Frank 1847.

WARRAH Dusicyon australis -Life and behaviour


Lewis de Bougainville said the warrah lived upon the downs along the seashore and that it dug a kennel underground. He said they had roads from one bay to another, cleverly always the shortest routes and that they the sailors, on their first landing, had thought them the paths of inhabitants.

The Falklands, before the arrival of sealers and settlers with their livestock, had a fringe of tussac around its coast while the interior has mostly thin soil. Around the tussac it would be sheltered and close to pickings on the beaches and it would be easy to excavate warm burrows or perhaps even occupy burrows already made by Magellanic penguins. The gauchos informed Charles Darwin (1833/34) that although the warrahs ranged all over the whole (East Falkland) island, they were more numerous near the coast.


Darwin recorded  that warrahs fed on native birds including penguins and upland geese. They also scavenged on the seashore and were known to take seals. (Were they seal pups or did they tackle adults?). They took birds' eggs and young, and probably grubs and insects as well.  Byron, in the islands in 1741 noticed pieces of seals they had mangled and skins of penguins scattered about the mouths of their holes. De Bougainville wrote the warrahs lived upon the downs along the seashore attacking ‘wild fowls’, and said the animal was ‘vastly lean and seemingly fasted during a time of year’. Undoubtedly warrahs would find slim pickings during the winter months when seabirds would not be on the islands to breed but there would still be geese and ducks to be had and shellfish and small fish under rocks to scavenge on the beach. Spring and summer when eggs and young birds were about would be a great time of plenty for them. The gauchos told Charles Darwin that in the inland parts warrahs subsisted entirely on Upland  geese, which in turn had been forced to build nests only on outlying islets for fear of the warrahs.


It is recorded that warrahs did not go about in packs and were not nocturnal, although they wandered about more in the evening than in the broad day. De Bougainville recorded they had a weak bark. They had no fear of people, would even take meat from a hand. They had a close family bond, Admiral Grey said the mate of the warrah fighting his dog came back to help it and at the time they were defending their young.

Photographic credits: Hurst, courtesy of Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet, Stockholm. Adult dog Warrah collected by J Frank 1847.
Sources and help: Dom. Pernety 1763-64. Historic d'un voyage aux Iles Maloaines. Renshaw, G. 1931, Mivart (1890) Mon. of Canidae, Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet, Stockholm, Sweden, Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles of Belgique, Brussels, Belgium. The World Museum, Liverpool. Voyage around the world by Louis de Bougainville 1766-9,Voyage of the Beage Charles Darwin.