Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Fuegian “dog”


weird but real animals

Another incredible and real creature was the Fuegian or Yagán “dog”. It was a small fox-sized “dog”, which is now extinct but, and this is the only case in the whole world, this “dog” resulted from the domesticaton of the culpeo; a type of South American fox (Pseudalopex culpaeus).

All other dogs around the world descend from domesticated wolves dating back several thousand years ago, the Fuegian case is different, they descend not from wolves but from foxes.

Lucas Bridges described them as “a very stunted cross between an Alsatian police dog and a wolf”.[1]

In the words of French Captain Marital who headed the 1883 scientific expedition to Cape Horn, it was “ugly, with long tawny hair and a sharp snout, it looks quite like the fox […] mainly when hunting otters is where this dog is very useful to its master”.[2]

They were big dogs, and weighed up to 35kg (77 lb).[3]

Fuegian dog

Stuffed Fuegian dog. At the Museo Mayorino Borgatello, Punta Arenas, Chile.[6]

Julius Popper –infamous for his massacres of Selk’nam people (at that time known as Ona), said that it had upright ears and thick tail, looking quite like the fox, although its color is sometimes totally white”.[4]

He pointed out its lack of loyalty to men “I never saw them, no matter how large their number, take an aggressive attitude or defend their masters when these were in danger”.[4]

He also noted that they were useless to hunt guanaco. Yet, he thought that he had found their usefulness:

the dogs placed themselves in a group around the small Onas, taking the shape of a kind of wrapping […] my opinion is that the fuegian dogs are only useful to complete the defective garment of the Indian, or better, as the Ona’s heating furniture.[4]

When Salesian father Gusinde began visiting the Yagans in 1919 their dogs had disappeared, they had been exterminated because they “were dangerous to men and cattle”.[5]

Their fierce nature had also been noticed by Reverend Thomas Bridges in the 1880s, who wrote that they attacked his Mission’s goats.[5]


[1] Bridges, L., (2008). Op. Cit. pp.97.
[2] Martial, L., (2005). Mision al Cabo de Hornos, la expedición científica francesa en la Romanche Julio de 1882 a setiembre de 1883. Ushuaia: Zaguier & Urruty Publications . pp. 225.
[3] Emperaire, J., and Oyarzún, L., (2002). Los nomades del mar. Santiago: Lom Ediciones. pp. 195
[4] Popper, J., (1887). Expedición Popper. [Conferencia]. Instituto Geográfico Militar. 05.03.1887. Museo del Fin del Mundo, Biblioteca Virtual.
[5] Orquera, L. and Piana, E. (1999). La vida material y social de los Yámana. B. Aires: EUDEBA. pp 178-180.
[6] El diario de Camilongo. Online.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters


  1. It took only 40 years of selective breeding to "domesticate" the silver fox Vulpes vulpes to the point where it exhibited much the same characteristics as described here for the Fuegian. I question that while the Fuegian is now considered "extinct", whether it was so significantly genetically different from the culpeo that it warranted separate species status. Given there is a museum specimen, and in recent years there have been some rapid advancements in ancient DNA research, perhaps we will in time get an answer. If there is no real difference, then a determined effort should be able to restore this breed within a half century.

    1. I think how the dog is considered a separate species from the wolf, and the amount of time that the natives probably had to domesticate these animals before European contact that this animal might be able to be called its own species.

  2. Dear Austin, I think there is a light confusion here. The picture and the yagan mention refers the boat dog of the yamana and alacalufe (kawesqar) whereas the taller dog described by Popper is the selk'nam one.
    Different nations, different dogs, though I agree in that both are probablly foxes after all.

  3. Yes, you are correct, Popper was referring to the Selknam (Ona) dogs. I am afraid I did not quote Popper in full, further down it says so: when he mentions their use as "heaters" for the Ona.
    It is likely they both derived from foxes.
    Thanks for your comment!

  4. Yet even now in 2016 says that a Russian was the first to domesticate foxes!!!!!
    this is the link:

  5. Thats because fuegian dogs were domesticated from culpeos, a species of south american fox, but despite the name south american foxes are not true foxes. they are more closely related to wolves and jackals


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