A natural history enthusiast since he was just three, now aged13, Dale Evans a native Falkland Islander has made a remarkable and significant scientific discovery.
In January while home at Spring Point Farm, West Falklands he found parts of a Warrah – the Falklands wolf – a species that has been extinct for more than 130 years.
The Islands’ only land mammal and its origin is something of an enigma. Only six complete specimens are known to exist and all these were collected in the 1800s. But Dale unearthed bones from the now extinct Warrah that could lead to new information about the Islands’ only native land mammal.
Falklands’s Museum staff and UK experts alike are thrilled with the discovery of the ‘Evans Warrah’.
Dale told the story of the incredible discovery in the family’s Spring Point Farm to the Penguin News.
“I knew if there was a jawbone there must be more so I went back the next day. I knew where it was but didn’t know how to get there, so (brother) Niall showed me the way...It was boggy so I scanned the area from the bank and thought if I looked on the surface I’d see more – the bones were black against the white sand. By the time Niall caught up I had seen a bit of the skull sticking out of the ground.
As I went towards it I saw the teeth and the cranium. I walked up to it and gently put my hands underneath the sand and lifted it out.
The ground was relatively soft with a crust. I took it to the bank where I examined it. By then I was really excited. Niall was there with me and later he found a bit of hard palate (of a second specimen) and the back of a skull and I found the other bit of it, which I gave to him because they belonged together. I went back to the site a few times. By the skull I found another bit of jaw, and that is close to where I found a baby tooth”.
Back in Stanley after the holidays Dale told his experience to one of his teachers who immediately took him and the skull to the local Museum’s taxidermist, Steve Massam.
“Steve got really excited because it was obviously of some age. He compared it to photos of a warrah skull he had seen in Holland”.
Dale went back searching in the holidays (Easter and half term) and found loads more bones – warrah bones and potential prey species – fish bones, squid beaks, penguin and goose bones and small bird bone.
“Eventually Steve and I went to the vet’s to eliminate it from being a dog. He didn’t think it was a dog”.
Things really begun moving when Steve had to travel to England and there was an opportunity to get the specimen identified safely.
The waiting was perilous! But finally an email confirmed the news: effectively the bones belong to the long extinct Warrah.
The name Warrah is simply a corruption of the term aguará which means ‘fox’ in Guaraní, one of the prevailing indigenous languages in South America.
“There is no doubt that this is a scientific find of some magnitude” said Leona Roberts, Falklands’ Museum Curator Leona Roberts.
“This is the only known Warrah specimen that seems to have been a natural fatality, rather than having been collected by naturalists. The bones and the site might well shed new light on what we know about these fascinating animals.”
Since being told of the discovery of the bones, the Museum has been seeking advice and guidance from contacts at British museums and organisations and the next step will be to try and establish the age of these specimens, probably through AMS radiocarbon dating. If the bones are as old as they appear to be, that can only add to the importance of the find. (PN/MP)