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

WARRAH Dusicyon australis- tame or fierce

1764,  Dom Antione Pernetty, the French Benedictine monk, botanist and chronicler with the French settlers at Fort Saint Louis, the first Falklands settlement, (He thought this animal was a type of wild dog).  ‘Officers of M de Bougainville’s suite were attacked by a sort of wild dog; this is perhaps, the only savage animal and quadruped which exists on the Malouin’  he recorded. He also observed that perhaps the warrah only came to present itself and approach them because it had not seen men, suggesting only curiosity and tameness.

Darwin writing in 1834 said of the warrah , ‘ These wolves are well known from Byron’s account of their tameness and curiosity, which the sailors, who ran into the water to avoid them, mistook for fierceness. To this day their manners remain the same. They have been observed to enter a tent, and actually pull some meat from beneath the head of a sleeping seaman. The gauchos, also, have frequently killed them in the evening by holding out a piece of meat in one hand, and in the other a knife ready to stick them. ‘

Lieutenant Governor Moody in 1842 wrote about the warrah:
‘It has been supposed that they are dangerous, from the fearless manner in which they will venture to approach any person, but I am informed by many well acquainted with their habits, that they do this more from ignorance of the power of man, and strong curiosity, than from ferocity, and that they may be very easily driven away. They will advance and take a piece of meat from the hand, if offered to them. Young ones are easily tamed. ‘

1836/37 Admiral Grey's encounter: Two ‘immense’ foxes came running up to him as if they would attack. Open mouthed, barking, howling, showing their teeth, and resembling wolves the warrahs greatly alarmed the Admiral who had at the time an unloaded rifle. Pilot, however bravely placed himself between him and the irate warrahs, keeping them at bay until Admiral Grey quickly loaded and was able to shoot the nearest one. Admiral Grey had actually disturbed a warrah family and they were defending their cub as Dowdle saw it run away.
Darwin said in 1834 that they were still tame and James Lovegrove Waldron, writing up his notebook in 1866-67 says that ‘The Falkland Island Fox is inquisitive and if any one stands still, will fearlessly approach a man and even come to smell him, as I have witnessed.’ These late report suggest that even though it was persecuted for decades the warrah remained trusting of man, was easily fed and poisoned,  and thus eradicated. It has not been possible to eradicate other foxes introduced to small islands (Beaver) and destructive to the sheep industry.
Most encounters with warrah’s suggest a tame (like other Falklands wildlife), curious and clever animal, an opportunist who would take food where it could, defensive of its young and easily driven off. Settlers would not hesitate to destroy it, wolves were common at the time, there were no antibiotics to ward off bite infections and as it was brazen enough to enter a tent it would be feared.


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