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

WARRAH Dusicyon australis

Dusicyon  Dusi (Greek) ‘foolish’, cyon ‘dog’.

Foolish to have trusted man.

In the days of our warrah, Charles Darwin noted that in Chilean Indian language culpen was said to mean ‘madness’, named thus he was told, because of its fearless manner of standing still and looking at any person who approached it in a wood. The name ‘Culpeo’ is derived from the Chilean word meaning stupid or foolish. 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.’
Why the Falklands wolf/ fox was called Warrah is not clear, but there is a clue in Darwin’s notes:
Allowing there to be three species- the Vulpes Antarcticus of the Falklands makes a fourth, & the Wurrah  (v.Fulkner’s) a fifth.
Although he is not referring to the Falklands species here, this suggests that there was then a South American animal with a very similar name.

Wolf or Fox

Some settlers and explorers considered the warrah a wolf, others saw a fox. The French, first inhabitants of the islands called the warrah (loup-renard) 'wolf-fox'. (Darwin called it a wolf-like fox). After over a century of debating and speculation whether the warrah was a fox or a wolf, DNA analysis concluded in 2009 that the warrah was indeed a wolf and it's closest living relative is the Maned Wolf of the South American savannah, although they last shared a common ancestor over six million years ago, a North American animal.

Various theories as to how the only land mammal got to the islands, from ice bridges, on an iceberg (Fitzroy and Darwin), in native canoes from Patagonia, or other human intervention have been speculated over the decades.

Radiocarbon tests have established that the warrah was on the Falkland Islands long before humans inhabited South America so it has been concluded that they did not have any human aid in getting there. It is very likely that warrahs reached the Falklands over ice, solid sea- ice or floes during the last ice age.

The Spring Point Warrahs

During the Falklands summer of 2009/2010, Dale Evans, thirteen at the time, found warrah bones including skulls and jaws on on his family's farm at Spring Point, West Falkland.

East/ West warrahs

Today it is generally accepted that there was only one warrah, common to all the Falklands but some early reporters believed there were two, the one on the West being a smaller animal. Minvart reported that ‘the Individuals inhabiting the Eastern Island are smaller and redder than those of the West’, there certainly seems to be different opinions regarding size. However, most reports state that those on the West were ‘smaller and of a more rufous colour’.
Charles Darwin’s animal notes (1832-33) , speaking of the warrah as Vulpes antarcticus mentions that ‘it has by mistake been sometimes stated to be peculiar to one Island’. He goes on to say however, Out of the four specimens brought home in the Beagle, three will be seen to be darker coloured, they come from the East Island. The fourth is smaller and rusty coloured and is from the West Island. Darwin also stated, although he did not visit West Falklands, ‘I was assured by Mr Lowe, an intelligent sealer, who has long frequented these islands, that the wolves of the West Falklands are invariably smaller and of a redder colour than those from the Eastern Island; and his account was corroborated by the officers of the ‘Adventure’ employed in surveying the archipelago’.
Even then there seemed to be much confusion. Darwin perhaps was not satisfied with these conclusions as it seems he had the matter investigated further:
In 1844 the second lieutenant on the Beagle, Bartholomew Sullivan, wrote to Darwin that ‘It is quite incorrect what we were told respecting the difference in the Foxes of the two Islands. They are the same both in size and colour. We have never been able to detect any difference.’
Measuring skulls taken from East and West Oldfield Thomas reached the opposite conclusion and though he stated that ‘no certainty is possible’ he named one for the East Falklands Dusicyon darwini and Dusicyon australis for the West Falklands. The name for the West warrah was to survive into history.
Perhaps simply there were areas where there was a better living and this caused them to grow larger, or where the living was harsher there was poorer growth and a variance in size. If they were indeed on the two main islands for thousands of years there would probably have been ‘genetic drift’, it being unlikely that they could have moved between East and West given the width of the Falkland Sound.


Photographic credits: Hurst, courtesy of Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet, Stockholm. Adult dog Warrah collected by J Frank 1847.

Sources include: The Evans Warrah, The Identification, Steve Massam. Naturalists Library 1839- Natural History of Dogs by Leut-Col. Chas. Hamilton-Smith, Voyage of the Beage Charles Darwin,Voyage around the world by Louis de Bougainville 1766-9, Despatch from Lieutenant Governor Moody to Lord Stanley 14th April 1842


  • Astor's theory