Unusual 'Carolina Dog' under study in Aiken area

The "Carolina Dog" may be a relative of the Australian Dingo.

Vol 13, No. 12, December, 1986

By 1. Lehr Brisbin

South Carolina

Official Publication of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation

Out-of-Doors

While most South Carolinians are familiar with the larger and rnore spectacular forms of their state's native wildlife, there are certain lesser and more spectacular forms of their state's native wildlife, there are certain lesser and more secretive forms which are often overlooked, but which are nonetheless interisting. One such example is a particularly primitive and unique type of free-ranging dog which has only recently been discovered living in the bottomland swamp forest , and other sparsely-inhabited areas in and around the U.S. Department 0f Energy's Savannah River Plant in portions of Aiken, Barnwell and Allendale counties. They are also found in adjoining portions of central Georgia across the Savannah River from these counties.

In many ways, these dogs may represent the closest living reprensentives those first primitive dogs which first accompanied nomadic hunters across the Bering land-bridge as they made their way into the North American continent over 8,000 years ago. The appearance of these dogs is nearly identical to that of the Australian Dingo, which indeed may be among their closest living relatives. Both are derived from primitive southwest Asian wolves which were first domesticated by man in the Shanidar Cave region of Iraq around 11,000 years ago. Like Dingos, these primitive "Carolina Dogs," as they arc called, weigh between 35-40 pounds when fully grown and have short dense hair which is generally solid reddish-tan to light beige in color. Occasional black-and-tan and piebald spotting patterns are also known to occur. Carolina Dogs have a slighly curled tail with a characteristic "fish-hook" appearance and large prominent erect ears. These, together with a wolflike head and pointed muzzle, give the animal the distinctive appearance of a large fox, and many of these dogs are undoubtedly mistaken as such in the wild.

Recently, several of these dogs have been trapped from the wild and havc become part of a program of captive breeding and study known as "Project Swamp Fox" under the direction of Dr. I. L. Brisbin of Aiken, South Carolina. Dr. Brisbin is a member of the faculty of the Institute of Ecology of the University of Georgia and his special interests are in the fields of wildlife biology and animal behavior.

Although studies of these captive dogs and their offspring are just beginning, many interesting and unusual behavioral traits have been observed. One female. for example, has exhibited the habit of routinely and deliberately covering her droppings with sand - a trait which, although common in cats, is believed to never have been observed in any other wild or domestic form of canine. When raised in groups in large enclosures, Carolina Dogs form well-organized social packs with strict peck-orders similar to those observed in true wolves. Females dig elaborate nursery dens prior to having puppies and seem well-adapted to raising their offspring without help from man.

When taken into a human family soon after weaning however, Carolina Dog puppies can quickly become well-adjusted and friendly household pets. When grown, such tamed and home-raised Carolina Dogs are proving to be versatile and resourceful hunting companions in the field. Like their primitive ancestor. these dogs readily chase and bay, but do not attack or "catch," large game such as wild hogs, and they are also keen hunters of small game such as rabbits and squirrels. Even field mice, rats, moles, and other such "vermin" are eagerly hunted and captured.

Occasionally, captive-born Carolina Dog puppies become available for placement and rearing in the homes of persons who are interested in participating in the development and study of this unique South Carolina "native." Persons interested in obtaining more information about this program are invited to write to Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin. P. 0. Drawer E, Aiken, South Carolina 29801.


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