The Maned Wolf of South America - A Strange Animal of the Savanna
The Maned Wolf
The maned wolf of South America 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 wolf look larger when it's threatened.
The wolf's large ears, pointed face, long legs and mane make it look very different from other members of the family Canidae. This family contains dogs, wolves, coyotes, foxes and jackals as well as the maned wolf.
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 wolf is classified as “Near Threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), although it may be endangered in some parts of its range.
A Maned Wolf at the Houston Zoo
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, like a fox's. The wolf 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 legs.
The maned wolf inhabits grasslands in Brazil, Paraguay and Peru. A small wolf population is present in Bolivia, Argentina and perhaps Uruguay. The animal is found on the savanna 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 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 wolf hear the movements of rodents. The ears also release heat to cool the animal down in the hot South American climate.
Maned Wolf Territory
Unlike other wolves, named 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 wolf marks its territory with its urine and feces. This 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 wolf's body releases the same odour. Wolves in captivity may be smelled before they are seen.
Diet and Hunting Strategy of the Maned Wolf
Maned wolves have an omnivorous diet. They hunt at night or at dawn and dusk. The wolves catch small mammals and occasionally larger ones, as well as birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. Plant form about half of the wolf's diet, which is unusual for a member of the Canidae family.
A 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 wolves sometimes catch domestic chickens but aren't believed to eat other livestock.
The wolves stalk their prey and pounce on it when they reach it. They also stamp on the ground to disturb their prey from a patch of grass and then pounce on the animal when it emerges. They dig for underground prey with their legs or with their teeth. The thin legs are not well adapted for digging.
Monks Feed a Wild Maned Wolf
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. This fruit is thought to act as a medicine to protect the wolf from infection by the giant kidney worm (Dioctophyme renale), although more research is needed to prove this idea. The worm is a parasite that enters the wolf's body inside prey such as crustaceans and fish. The parasite typically inhabits and destroys one of the kidneys. The affected kidney is generally the right one.
The seeds of the lobeira fruit pass through the wolf's digestive tract and drop on to the ground with the feces. Researchers have discovered that the journey through the wolf's body helps the seeds to germinate. This is important for both the wolves and the other animals that eat the lobeira fruit.
The lobeira (Solanum lycocarpum) belongs to the family Solanaceae, which also contains tomatoes and potatoes. The spiny plant grows as a large shrub or as a small tree. The unripe fruit is green and hard and looks like an apple. The ripe fruit is yellow, soft and aromatic.
The Maned Wolf in the Wild
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 wolves from different territories meet, they may arch their backs and erect their manes in threatening postures. Each wolf tries to intimidate the other. If this plan fails, the wolves may snarl and attack each other. Zoos have to be careful how they group maned wolves in enclosures in order to prevent unfriendly interactions.
A Barking Maned Wolf
The female wolf 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. There are one to five pups in the litter. They have black fur instead of the characteristic colours of the adult wolves.
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 maned wolves have lived for up to sixteen years.
Dora and Diego - Maned Wolf Pups at Eleven Days Old
Maned Wolves in Captivity - Dora and Diego
On December 30th, 2010, two maned wolf pups named Dora and Diego were born at the Houston Zoo. They were the first maned wolves 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 wolves as they grew. Some of the videos are shown in this article.
Dora and Diego at Five Weeks Old
The maned wolf population is classified as "Near Threatened" on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. The wolf is in trouble mainly due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Land is increasingly being cleared for agriculture, shutting out the wolves completely or restricting them to isolated patches of land. Wolves are also being killed on highways. Farmers sometimes kill the wolves because they think that the animals will attack their livestock. In addition, domestic dogs have had a negative influence on the maned wolf population by transmitting diseases to the wolves.
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, wolves were killed for their body parts. These were believed to have mystical or medicinal benefits. Killing the wolves for this purpose still sometimes occurs. This activity is thought to be only a minor threat to the wolf 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
Dora and Diego Visiting the Outside World
Zoos and conservation organizations are trying to breed maned wolves, but it's not easy. The wolves 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 wolves in captivity and breed them successfully. Although keeping wolves in zoos isn't an ideal situation, it does have the benefit of maintaining the population. This will be very important if the wild wolves become endangered.
© 2012 Linda Crampton