Posts Tagged ‘Andean wolf’

hagenbeck's wolf

One of the great enigmas in the world of canid zoology is the case of Hagenbeck’s wolf.

Hagenbeck’s wolf is a proposed species based upon one pelt.

The pelt came from an animal dealer in Argentina, who sold it to Lorenz Hagenbeck in 1926. Hagenbeck claimed there were four such skins, but he purchased only one. The dealer claimed they came from a wild dog that lived in Andes.

It was sent to Germany and wound up in the museums of Munich. In 1940, a zoologist named Ingo Krumbiegel examined the pelt. The pelt’s color was black and fur was much longer than other canids from the region. He assumed that it belonged to a undescribed montane species of maned wolf.

Krumbiegel ignored the pelt until 1947, when it began looking at again. In that year, he learned from Lorenz Hagenbeck that there were three other pelts just like it. That got Krumbiegel thinking. He had received from the Andes. He had thought the skull belonged to a maned wolf, but it was much larger than any maned wolf he’d ever examined or read about.

He thought that maybe this skull came from the same species as the one with the black pelt. It measured over 30 centimeters in length, while the typical maned wolf skull is only 25 centimeters in length

Krumbiegel began to reconstruct the animal from the skin. The “mane” on the neck of the pelt was 8 inches long.  He noticed the legs were a lot shorter than the typical maned wolf, which is creature of open woodland and grassland habitats and uses its long legs to help it see, hear, and smell over the tall grass.  He drew sketches of what he imagined this montane maned wolf looked like.

Krumbiegel thought the animal was unique enough that it deserved its own genus. He initially gave it the name Oreocyon hagenbecki or “Hagenbeck’s mountain dog,” but on learning that Oreocyon had been used before, he changed it to Dasycyon hagenbecki–“Hagenbeck’s thick (furred) dog.”

That proposed name has been the one that has been floating around cryptozoology circles ever since. Bernard Heuvelmans, the dean of cryptozoologists, thought that if Hagenbeck’s wolf really was that similar to the maned wolf, then it might be more properly classified as part of Chrysocyon.

The big maned wolf skull was lost during the war, so Krumbiegel was unable to make additional measurements of it.

In 2000, there was an attempt to do a DNA test on the pelt, but the researchers were unable to get uncontaminated DNA from it.  The pelt had been chemically treated, making recovery of DNA from it quite difficult.

The most likely explanation is that this pelt belonged to a domestic dog. Perhaps there was a population of domestic dogs that went feral in the Andes. They were prick-eared and black-coated, and they were thought of as “wild dogs.”

But they were actually feral.

It has been suggested that the large skull that Krumbiegel examined belonged to a German shepherd and that he extrapolated all of this analysis off a skull belonging to a domestic dog.

I’m a bit skeptical of that suggestion. Krumbiegel lived in Nazi Germany, where German shepherds were celebrated dogs and heavily studied. He surely would have known the difference between a German shepherd or wolf skull and that belonging to a South American wild dog.

No one has tried to extract DNA from the anomalous pelt since 2000. It’s generally been ignored. We do have better techniques for DNA extraction now, so maybe it is worth another go.

Maybe this animal really is a montane maned wolf or some other undescribed canid. Maned wolves do rarely come in black on occasion, and this could be suggestive of a relationship.

Perhaps it was a descendant of the improperly classified Canis gezi.  Maybe it was a closer relative of the extinct Falkland Islands wolf than the maned wolf, which is currently listed as its closest relative.

The truth is we really don’t know, but if we were to find out that it was something that spectacular, the question ultimately would be whether this animal still exists.

Maybe it was among the last of its species.

Or maybe it was just a feral dog.

That’s the enigma.

And in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that much of a priority.

But wouldn’t you like to know?



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The pelt of Hagenbeck's wolf.

In 1927, German zoologist Lorenz Hagenbeck procured a pelt from a fur trader in Buenos Aires. There were four black pelts available, and all appeared to have come from the same species. All looked remarkably like black wolf pelts. Hagenbeck purchased one of the skins, and it was sent to Germany, where it was mostly ignored for over a decade.

In 1940, Dr. Ingo Krumbiegel began to research the skin. Krumbiegel had found a skull of a unknown canid in South America ten years earlier, and he wanted to connect the skull he found to the pelt that Hagenbeck had purchased.   Perhaps they belonged to an undiscovered species of South American wild dog.

Krumbiegel’s skull  measured 31 centimeters, which was significantly larger than that of a maned wolf. The dentition suggested that the animal was an omnivore.

Krumbiegel named the creature Dasycyon hagenbecki, but because no live specimens were ever found, it has never been officially designated as a species.

Without a body, Krumbiegel could never fully prove that the skull he found had anything to do with Hagenbeck’s pelt. The fact that the two pieces of evidence represented enigmatic canines from South America does not automatically mean that the two are representatives of each other.

Further, one must always be a little skeptical of any German or Austrian science that comes from the period of 1933-1945  in the case of Germany or from 1938-1945 in Austria.

The skull disappeared during World War II, so we are left with only a pelt as evidence of this supposed species.

1960, it was determined that the pelt was that of a domestic dog.  In 2000, attempts to analyze the pelt for DNA were inconclusive. Traces of dog, wolf, human, and pig DNA were found, but it was decided that the pelt’s DNA was too contaminated to make a full determination of its identity

So what was Hagenbeck’s wolf?

Despite the contamination, I don’t think it is very had to come up with some hypotheses.

1. It is a domestic dog. The fur trader got three pelts from someone who killed some big dogs that were very similar in type and color. Selling dog pelts is a common practice in parts of Asia. I would assume that a lot of that was sold throughout history actually came from dogs. It’s just very easy to get dog furs, and if you’re selling them to a foreigner who doesn’t know the fauna of your region, it is very easy to offload them as something rare.

2. It’s from an escaped pack of wolves or wolf hybrids. Traveling menageries were not unknown in the region, and it would make sense that a traveling menagerie might have a few wolves or wolf hybrids. Of course, such animals are hard to keep, so it would also make sense that someone might release them into the wild. Or sell them to a fur trapper who then sells them to a fur trader as some kind of rare specimen.  The pelt has some characteristics that are associated with black North American wolves. It has lighter shadings that come throught its undercoat.  Black North American wolves almost always lighten as they age, and many of them start out already much lighter in color than most black dogs.

3. It actually is a unique South American canid. I think this is less likely, but it could possibly be a descendant of a population of an American member of the genus Canis— like the dire wolf (Canis dirus) or Armbruster’s wolf (Canis armbrusteri). However, the pelt’s black coloration probably precludes this as a possibility. It is doubtful that anyone could find a population of wild dogs from the genus Canis with black coloration before the domestication of the dog. Black North American wolves and coyotes  and black Italian wolves  got their coloration through hybridizing with black domestic dogs.  Hagenbeck’s wolf could also be able to interbreed with domestic dogs, but I think it is much more likley that this animal represents an out of place wolf hybrid, pure wolf, or wolfish domestic dog.

Whatever it was, the connections between this pelt and the others that the trader was selling and the skull that Krumbiegel found have not been proven. It is a best speculative to assume that they were even connected in the first place.

If we had that skull, we might be able to make some determination as to whether an omnivorous canid that is larger than a maned wolf can be found in South America.

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