The Maned Wolf of South America: Facts, Photos, and Videos
A Distinctive Animal
The maned wolf has a very distinctive appearance. It’s often described as a “fox on stilts” because of its very long legs and fox-like face. Its name refers to the band of long, black hair along the back of its neck and shoulders. The mane can be erected to make the animal look larger when it's threatened.
The animal's large ears, pointed face, long legs, and mane make it look very different from other members of the family Canidae. This family also contains true wolves, coyotes, foxes, jackals, and dogs. The scientific name of the maned wolf is Chrysocyon brachyurus. It's the only member of the genus Chrysocyon and isn't closely related to any other member of its family.
The animal is classified as “Near Threatened” on the Red List established by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), although it may be endangered in some parts of its range. The Red List categorizes organisms according to their nearness to extinction.
Though both the gray wolf of North America and the maned wolf belong to the family Canidae, they have different scientific names and are only distantly related. The gray wolf is considered to be a true wolf. Members of the family Canidae are sometimes referred to as canids.
Physical Appearance and Habitat
An adult maned wolf is about three foot high at the shoulder and weighs about fifty pounds. Its muzzle is long and pointed. The animal has red-brown or golden-red fur over most of its body, white fur on the inside of its ears, a white throat, and a white tip on the tail. The mane and the lower legs are black. The back legs are a little longer than the front ones.
The canid lives in Brazil, Paraguay, and Peru. A small population is present in Bolivia, Argentina, and perhaps Uruguay. The animal is found on the savanna (grassland with scattered trees) and in a mixed habitat of open woodland and savanna known as cerrado. It's also found in areas of scrub and on marshland.
It's thought that the maned wolf developed its long legs to help it see over the tall grasses of the savanna. The ears may reach seven inches in length and are believed to help the animal hear the movements of rodents. The ears also release heat to cool the animal down in the hot South American climate.
Unlike true wolves, maned wolves don't live in packs. Instead, they are solitary and reclusive animals. They form monogamous pairs. The male and the female share a territory, but the two animals rarely come together except during the breeding season. The territory is thought to have an area of about ten square miles.
The canid marks its territory with its urine and feces. The urine has a strong and distinctive smell, which has been described as being similar to skunk spray. Researchers have found that chemicals called pyrazines are responsible for the smell. Sometimes the animal's body releases the same odour. Animals in captivity may be smelled before they are seen.
Diet and Hunting Strategy
Maned wolves have an omnivorous diet. They hunt at night or at dawn and dusk. The animals catch small mammals and occasionally larger ones. They also catch birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates. Plants form about half of their diet, which is unusual for a canid.
A maned wolf may cover twenty miles in one night as it hunts. The front and back legs on the same side of body move almost at the same time, giving the animal an unusual gait. Its mammal prey includes rodents, rabbits, armadillos and, on rare occasions, pampas deer. The animals sometimes catch domestic chickens but aren't believed to eat other livestock.
The canids stalk their prey and pounce on it when they reach it. They also stamp on the ground to disturb the prey from a patch of grass and then pounce on the animal when it emerges. They dig for underground animals with their legs or with their teeth. The thin legs are not well adapted for digging.
Maned Wolves and the Lobeira Fruit
Maned wolves eat many types of fruits, especially the lobeira fruit, which is also known as a wolf apple. The lobeira (Solanum lycocarpum) belongs to the family Solanaceae, which also contains tomatoes and potatoes. The spiny plant grows as a large shrub or a small tree. The unripe fruit is green and hard and looks like an apple. The ripe fruit is yellow, soft, and aromatic.
The seeds of the lobeira fruit pass through the canid's digestive tract and drop on to the ground with the feces. Researchers have discovered that the journey through the animal's body helps the seeds to germinate. This is important for both the maned wolves and the other animals that eat the lobeira fruit.
Maned wolves are vocal animals that bark, growl, and whine. A deep and resonant bark is used for long-distance communication while an aggressive growl is used for communication over short distances.
If two animals from different territories meet, they may arch their backs and erect their manes in threatening postures. Each animal tries to intimidate the other. If this plan fails, the pair may snarl and attack each other. Zoos have to be careful how they group maned wolves in enclosures in order to prevent unfriendly interactions.
The female gives birth to a litter of one to five pups after a gestation period of sixty to sixty-five days. The pups are born in a den above ground, which is created in thick patches of tall grass or in scrub. The litter consists of one to five offspring. The youngsters have black fur instead of the characteristic colours of the adults.
The pups rely on their mother's milk for about a month and are then introduced to regurgitated food. The adult colours begin to appear when the youngsters are two to three months old. The elongated legs develop a little later.
Maned wolves are considered to be adults at one year of age. In the wild, they probably leave their mother at this stage. They don't reproduce until they are about two years old, however.
In captivity, both the male and the female regurgitate food for the pups after they have been weaned, but it's unknown if the males do this in the wild. Captive animals have lived for up to sixteen years.
The three videos below show maned wolf pups Dora and Diego as they grow up. They are only eleven days old in the first video.
Two Maned Wolves Pups
On December 30th, 2010, two maned wolf pups named Dora and Diego were born at the Houston Zoo. They were the first members of their species successfully born at the zoo in over ten years, Their mother, Lucy, wasn't caring for them properly, so the zoo staff intervened and hand reared the pups. The zoo created a video record of the animals as they grew.
The maned wolf population is classified as "Near Threatened" on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. The animal is in trouble mainly due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Land is increasingly being cleared for agriculture, shutting out maned wolves completely or restricting them to isolated patches of land. The animals are also being killed on highways. Farmers sometimes kill the animals because they think that they will attack their livestock. In addition, domestic dogs have had a negative influence on the maned wolf population by transmitting diseases to the animals.
Maned wolves are generally timid around humans. However, their reduced habitat is forcing them into closer contact with us, which can cause problems such as increased visits to livestock and roads.
In the past, the canids were killed for their body parts. These were believed to have mystical or medicinal benefits. Killing the animals for this purpose still sometimes occurs. This activity is thought to be only a minor threat to their population, however.
Maned wolves are protected by law in many parts of their range, but enforcement is frequently problematic.— International Union for Conservation of Nature
Zoos and conservation organizations are trying to breed maned wolves, but it's not easy. The animals don't breed very well in captivity and there is a high pup mortality rate. There have been some successes, though, especially recently. Most zoos now keep careful records of how their pups are reared and share their data with other organizations.
As more pups are born and as more is discovered about the natural lives of wild maned wolves, more is bring learned about how to keep the canids in captivity and breed them successfully. Although keeping the animals in zoos isn't an ideal situation, it does have the benefit of maintaining the population. This will be very important if the wild animals become endangered.
© 2012 Linda Crampton