Animal Spotlight: Maned Wolf

Taxonomy:

maned-wolf-2
Via National Zoo
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Chrysocyon
  • Species: brachyurus
  • Average Height: 3.3 ft (1 m)
  • Average Length: 4 ft (1.25 m)
  • Average Weight: 45 – 50 lbs (20 – 23 kg)
  • Average Lifespan in the Wild: Unknown
  • Average Lifespan in Captivity: 6.5 years

One might think that the maned wolf was one of the wolf species. And though it is a canid and related, the maned wolf is much more closely related to the forest fox and bush dog, a canid species from South America. Despite this relationship, the maned wolf is the only species in its genus and is the largest canid in South America.

The maned wolf is found in central South America, from northeastern Brazil, south through Paraguay, and west into southern Peru. It is also found in small areas of Argentina and Bolivia. The species may still be present in some areas of Uruguay, despite being believed to be extinct there in the 19th century. It inhabits the cerrado, the largest biome of South America and one of the world’s most important ‘hot-spots’ of biodiversity, which is comprised of west and dry forests, grasslands, savannas, marshes, and wetlands. The maned wolf prefers open habitats in tall grasslands, low-scrub edges of forests, and even swampy areas.

Physical Description:

The maned wolf is similar in appearance to the red fox with a golden-red coat, long pointed muzzle, and large erect ears. Chestnut red pelage covers their back and down their body while their slender legs, feet, and muzzle and painted black. The animal’s throat, inside of the ears, and tip of the tail are white. Its distinctive long red fur covering its neck, back, and chest can stand on end, giving the appearance of a mane.

manedwolf-005
Via National Zoo

Another distinctive feature is its extremely long, thin legs that makes the maned wolf immediately recognizable. It is thought to be an adaptation to help them see above the tall grasses of central South America.

Diet:

The maned wolf is an omnivore, eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and meat. It will eat small mammals such as cuis (wild guinea pigs), rabbits, and young viscachas (burrowing rodents) as well as pacas and agoutis, both fast-running rodents. Insects, reptiles, and birds are also a regular part of its diet.

However, the maned wolf’s main source of food is the tomato-like lobeira fruit, whose name means “fruit of the wolf”, which grows throughout its range. It is also thought to provide medicinal aid against the giant kidney worm. The maned wolf also favors fruits such as bananas, apples, and avocados and feed on sugar cane. Approximately 50% of its total diet is made up of the lobeira and other fruits and vegetables.

Scavenging on road-kill also occurs and free-ranging chickens are frequently stolen from farms.

Behavior:

CHRYSOCYON BRACHYURUS
Via BBC Nature

The maned wolf hunts primarily at night as well as during dusk and dawn hours. During the day, they are most often spent resting, often in areas of thick bush cover.

When hunting, the animal can rotate its large ears to listen for prey animals in the grass. It will tap the ground with a front foot to flush out the prey and pounce to catch it or may dig after the burrowing prey. Its long legs aid in leaping to capture birds and insects as well as move through and see above tall grasses.

Unlike wolves that live in cooperative breeding packs, the maned wolf lives a primarily solitary lifestyle. Mated pairs, though monogamous, share a home range of about 15.5 to 31 miles (25 to 50 square kilometers) but will remain fairly independent of each other at all times except during the breeding season.

Very little is known of maned wolf behavior; most information on breeding has come from the study of animals in human care. Breeding season exists from April to June. During this time, vocalizations and scent marking increase before mating. In August and early September, mothers give birth to 2 to 5 maned wolf pups after a gestation period of 65 days. Originally, it was believed that the female alone cared for the young, suckling them for up to 15 weeks. However, in captivity, males have been observed grooming and defending pups as well as feeding them by regurgitation.

Pups reach sexual maturity and will generally leave the parents’ territory at around one year old but do not usually reproduce until the second year.

Conservation and Threats:

Much like the native wolf species, the maned wolf is misunderstood and widely persecuted. For years, it was hunted and killed by farmers who believed that the wolves are killing their poultry and livestock. The maned wolf’s small teeth and jaws make it hard for it to kill large prey, but it is often blamed because of its intimidating size.
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One of the most significant threat to the survival of remaining maned wolf populations is habitat loss. Conversion of land to agriculture has drastically reduced the available habitat for the maned wolf. Approximately 20% of the original cerrado of Brazil has been reduced. The fragmentation of highly suitable habitat causes isolation of subpopulations.

As its habitat is encroached by the ever-expanding farms, the maned wolf is forced into increased proximity with people, exacerbating the already-existing conflict. They are often killed on highways, frequently on those which border protected areas. Road kills are responsible for the death of approximately half the annual production of pups in some reserves and is a major concern in central Brazil. This leads to local extinction of small, isolated populations as estimates range from four to ten individuals killed per year in some regions. Similar impact of vehicular collisions was detected in marginal populations of Argentina and Paraguay.

Direct interactions has led to not only the potential for infectious diseases to be spread by domestic dogs, but also direct persecution resulting from widely held superstitions and beliefs. Maned wolves are persecuted with hunting, trapping, and shooting due to a mix of long-standing cultural beliefs, general ignorance of the species, and trophy hunting. Some local people attribute mystical qualities to several parts of its anatomy (eyes, skin, and tail) and will use these parts as ‘talisman’ or for medicinal remedies. In Brazil and Paraguay, the targeted persecution extends beyond the traditional and natural medicine needs to include the low public tolerance of poultry depredation. In some areas this hunting pressure is so high that it is having a significant negative effect on local maned wolf populations.

Despite the threats, the maned wolf is occurs in a number of protected areas across its range with laws in place. It is listed on CITES Appendix II, classified as ‘endangered’ on IUCN, and is included on the list of threatened animals in Brazil. Hunting is prohibited in Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. The species is also included under the United States’ Endangered Species Act. However, law enforcement is frequently problematic.

As of recent, there was little conservation actions specific to the maned wolf. But, there have been broader attempts to protect parts of its habitat and reduce the impact of animal road kills in Brazil. Research has been done into behavior affecting hormones, nutrition, and stress in captivity, as well as the use of modern reproductive technologies to aid the process as this species breed poorly in captivity. Education programs are also extremely important to teach farmers how to deal with the maned wolves without any killing.

3426587883_d8bca0288d
Photo By: Natalie Carstens

In Argentina, the GAAG (Grupo Argentino Aguará Guazú or Maned Wolf Argentine Group) was founded as a national strategy to develop, manage, execute, and monitor the Action Plan for the Maned Wolf’s conservation in Argentina. The group comprises 16 institutional members, which includes provincial and national government agencies, zoos, NGOs and research groups from universities and museums. Between 2002 and 2011, GAAG carried out 10 regional workshops aimed at: 1) mapping threats for maned wolf in natural habitats; 2) prioritizing conflicts in the wild and problems in captivity; 3) prioritizing strategies and actions for its ex situ and in situ conservation; 4) developing recommendations for conservation in the wild and management in captivity; 5) developing efficient education strategies for Maned Wolf conservation both in situ and ex situ, and 6) validating methodologies and strategies for conservation education. Since 2005, five species-directed projects have been developed and include work in five of the eight provinces in the maned wolf’s distribution. Extensive surveys of farmers and ranchers have provided valuable information about the distribution of the species and also about people’s attitudes towards maned wolves. Ongoing education programs are aimed at changing negative perceptions of this wild carnivore.

Interesting Facts:

  • The common name “maned wolf” is derived from the characteristic mane-like strip of black fur running from the back of the head to the shoulders which stands erect when danger is sensed.
  • Its fox-like characteristics have earned it the nickname of “fox on stilts.”
  • Maned wolf urine has a powerful aroma, reminding many humans of the way skunks smell
  • It is estimated that there is a total population of 23,600 individuals in 2005. 21,746 in Brazil, 880 in Argentina, and 660 in Argentina.
  • As of January 2012, 150 institutions hold a total of 394 maned wolves (182 males, 211 females, one unknown) in captivity.

References + For More Reading

Endangered Wolf Center: Maned Wolf

Arkive: Maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus)

BBC Nature: Maned Wolf

WWF: Maned Wolf

IUCN: Chrysocyon brachyurus

National Zoo: Maned Wolf

Animal Corner: Maned Wolf

Canids: Chrysocyon brachyurus

Animal Diversity Web: Maned Wolf

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