A team of biologists captured photos of bush dogs, one of the rarest species of canids in Panama. This mysterious species are rarely spotted throughout South and Central America.

The snapshots taken by trap cameras bring new knowledge about these elusive creatures.

The bush dog (Speothos venaticus) is short-legged, broad and stands only a foot tall at the shoulder. Bush dogs run in packs of up to 10 and live mainly in tropical forests on a diet of mainly rodents.

"Our group of biologists from Yaguará Panama and collaborators are working on an article about big mammals using camera trapping data that spans Panama from the Costa Rican border to the Colombian border," said Ricardo Moreno, a Smithsonian Research Associate and co-author of the study. He added that bush dogs were the rarest animals they photographed.

The team from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) used digital camera traps that are designed to take photos automatically when infrared sensors detect body heat from animals. To have an idea about how elusive bush dogs are, the team obtained photos from the camera only 11 times over 32,000 camera days.

In the study, the researchers report sightings of bush dogs in five sites in Panama, making the country a suitable habitat for them. Panama is known to be the only country in Central America where bush dogs occur in the wild, but recent unconfirmed reports show that bush dogs were seen in Costa Rica, near the Panama border. The researchers speculate that these dogs may cross the border to Costa Rica in the future.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that bush dogs are listed as a near-threatened species. The organization estimates that the populations of bush dogs declined by around 25 percent in the past decade.

Bush dogs live primarily in untouched tropical forests. The IUCN links the decline in population to increasing levels of habitat fragmentation for urbanization and agriculture.

The study aims to help in planning the conservation program for the bush dog. The study's authors suggest stronger measures need to be done in order to accurately assess population trends for bush dogs in Panama, considering the rapid depletion of forest habitat and the decline of prey species that contribute to the decline of the animal's population.

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