The Andean wolf is an unknown species of canid allegedly inhabiting northern and western Patagonia. This species is also known in Mapuche folklore, where they’re called “punalka” literally meaning “body of the night,” and is often used as a catch-all term for any monstrous being. One of the many versions of the punalka is a massive, black, hunchbacked dog that makes its den in caves deep in the mountains. There are also various mythological aspects of this creature, like its magical power to transform women into werewolf-like monsters.
The punalka was often thought that there was no truth to this folktale, simply being a bogeyman-type figure until physical evidence of a near-identical animal was discovered. German animal collector Lorenz Hagenbeck was at a market in Buenos Aires in 1927, when he came across a hunter selling various animal pelts, four of which belonged to a peculiar animal he couldn’t identify. He asked the seller what species the skins belonged to, and said it was a kind of wild dog that lived in the central Andes.
He bought one of the skins knowing its scientific importance and sent them to the Zoological State Museum in Munich. The pelt was six feet in length, with long, thick and dark fur, a dense, mane-like covering on its neck, and a strange hunched back. It was similar to a maned wolf’s pelt, another known canid species in the same general area. German zoologist Dr. Ingo Krumbiegel and various other mammologists studied the pelt and determined it to be a high altitude, montane equivalent to a maned wolf.
In 1935, Krumbiegel also found an unusually large maned wolf skull from the Andes, well outside of their accepted range. Krumbiegel continued to study the pelt and in 1953, considered it a distinct new species, which he called Dasycyon hagenbecki.
Despite the physical evidence and local lore of this animal, the Andean wolf, punalka, or Hagenbeck’s wolf, is usually rejected as folklore with the pelt being dismissed as an Alsatian dog or a Canadian timber wolf. DNA testing on the pelt was done, but it was considered too old to be conclusive, so the Andean wolf pelt will remain a mystery.