Rare Bush Dogs Photographed in Panama

Bush dogs are incredibly rare and difficult to photograph, active only at night in large, undisturbed rain forests in Latin America. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

You could spend a lifetime in the forests of Latin America and never see a bush dog, because these animals are incredibly rare, and only active at night. Due to their elusiveness, scientists know very little about these petite canids, which grow to about 2 feet in length and run around in small packs in the rainforests of South and Central America.

Four camera traps set up by researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City caught a few rare photos of the animals, which some describe as looking like a cross between a pig and a dog, and which roam around feeding on small rodents like agoutis and pacas. The photos were taken as part of a study, published recently in the journal Canid Biology and Conservation, which suggests bush dogs are more widespread in Panama than previously thought.

Even so, the team was still only able to photograph 15 of the bush dogs (Speothos venaticus), and all in large, protected forests. The animals need large swathes of undisturbed forest to survive, and they are decline due to logging and habitat destruction, according to the scientists.

Bush dogs here have been photographed by a camera trap in Panama. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

"The bush dog is one of the rarest species that we photograph," says lead researcher Ricardo Moreno, according to UPI. His team is working on a project to document the presence of other large mammals in Central America, and they almost never find bush dogs.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that bush dog populations declined by around 25 percent from 1999 to 2011, and the organization considers them "near threatened," two notches above endangered.