The maned wolf (scientifically known as Chrysocyon brachyurus) is a large canid of South America. The maned wolf is found in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay and is almost extinct in Uruguay. Its markings resemble those of foxes, but it is neither a fox nor a wolf. It is the only species of the genus Chrysocyon (meaning“golden dog“).
Characteristics of the maned wolf
It is the largest canine in South America, weighing 20-30 kg (44-66 lb) and up to 90 cm (35 in) at the withers. Its long, slender legs and dense reddish fur give it an unmistakable appearance
The maned wolf is a crepuscular, omnivorous animal adapted to the open environments of the South American savanna, with an important role in the dispersal of fruit seeds, especially the wolf apple (Solanum lycocarpum). The maned wolf is a solitary animal. It communicates mainly by means of scent marks, but also emits a loud call known as a “roar-bark”.
This mammal lives in open and semi-open habitats, especially in grasslands with scattered shrubs and trees, in the Cerrado of southern, west-central and southeastern Brazil; Paraguay; northern Argentina; and Bolivia east and north of the Andes, and extreme southeastern Peru (Pampas del Heath only)
The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies it as Near Threatened, while the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources considers it a Vulnerable species. In 2011, a female maned wolf, hit by a truck, underwent stem cell treatment at the Brasilia Zoo , the first recorded case of stem cell use to heal injuries in a wild animal.
Habits and behavior
The maned wolf is a crepuscular animal, but its activity pattern is more related to relative humidity and temperature, similar to that observed with the bush dog (Speothos venaticus)
Peak activity occurs between 8 and 10 am and between 8 and 10 pm. On cold or cloudy days, they may be active all day
The species is likely to use open fields for foraging and more enclosed areas, such as riparian forests, for resting, especially on warmer days.
Unlike most large canids (such as the gray wolf, African hunting dog or dhole), the maned wolf is a solitary animal and does not form packs
It hunts alone, usually between dusk and midnight, turning its large ears to listen for prey animals in the grass. It strikes the ground with a foreleg to flush prey and pounces on it to catch it. It kills prey by biting it on the neck or back, and shaking it violently if necessary.
Monogamous pairs can defend a shared territory of about 30 km2 (12 square miles), although outside of mating, individuals may meet only rarely. The territory is crisscrossed by paths that they create when patrolling at night. Several adults may congregate in the presence of an abundant food source, e.g., an area of grassland cleared by fire that exposes small vertebrate prey while foraging.
Both female and male maned wolves use their urine to communicate,[ for example, to mark their hunting paths or the places where they have buried their prey. The urine has a very distinctive odor, which some compare to hops or cannabis. It is very likely that the substance responsible is a pyrazine, which is also found in both plants. At Rotterdam Zoo, this odor caused the police to search for cannabis smokers
The maned wolf’s preferred habitat includes grasslands, scrub meadows and forests.
The maned wolf participates in symbiotic relationships. It contributes to the propagation and dissemination of the plants it feeds on, through excretion
Maned wolves often defecate in the nests of leafcutter ants. The ants use the dung to fertilize their fungus gardens, but dispose of the seeds contained in the dung in trash piles just outside their nests. This process greatly increases the germination rate of the seeds.
They suffer from ticks, mainly of the genus Amblyomma, and flies such as Cochliomyia hominivorax, usually on their ears. Interestingly, the maned wolf is little parasitized by fleas. Sharing territory with domestic dogs gives rise to a number of diseases, including rabies virus, parvovirus, distemper virus, canine adenovirus, the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii, the bacterium Leptospira interrogans and the nematode Dirofilaria immitis
It is especially susceptible to potentially fatal infection by the giant kidney worm. Ingestion of the wolf apple could prevent maned wolves from contracting this nematode, but such a hypothesis has been questioned by several authors.
Its predators are mainly big cats, such as the puma (Puma concolor) and the jaguar (Panthera onca), but the most frequent prey is the jaguar
What does the maned wolf feed on?
The maned wolf is omnivorous. It specializes in preying on small and medium-sized animals, including small mammals (usually rodents and rabbits), birds and even fish, but a large part of its diet (more than 50%, according to some studies) is plant matter, including sugar cane, tubers and fruit
As many as 301 foods have been recorded in the maned wolf’s diet, including 116 plants and 178 animal species.
Maned wolves hunt by chasing prey, digging holes and leaping to catch birds in flight. About 21% of hunts are successful. They have also been observed feeding on carcasses of roadkill. Armadillos are also commonly eaten.
The wolf apple (Solanum lycocarpum), a tomato-like fruit, is the most common food of the maned wolf. With some exceptions, these fruits make up 40-90% of the maned wolf’s diet. The wolf apple is actively sought after by the maned wolf, and is consumed throughout the year, unlike other fruits that can only be consumed in abundance during the rainy season. It can consume several fruits at once and disperse the seeds intact when defecating, making it an excellent disperser of the wolf apple plant.
Despiteits preferred habitat, the maned wolf is ecologically flexible and can survive in disturbed habitats, from burned areas to places with heavy human influence. Burned areas have some small mammals, such as the hairy-tailed bolo mouse (Necromys lasiurus) and vespine mouse (Calomys spp.) that can hunt and survive.
Historically, maned wolves in captivity were fed diets rich in meat, but this caused them to develop bladder stones. Today, zoo diets include fruits and vegetables as well as meat and a specialized extruded diet formulated for maned wolves because of its low content of stone-causing compounds (e.g., cystine).
Maned wolves and humans
Maned wolves are generallyshy and flee when alarmed, posing little direct threat to humans. The maned wolf is popularly believed to have the potential to be a chicken thief. It used to be considered a similar threat to cattle and sheep, although this is now known to be untrue.
Historically, in some parts of Brazil, these animals were hunted for certain parts of their bodies, especially the eyes, which were believed to be good luck charms. Since their classification as a vulnerable species by the Brazilian government, they have received greater consideration and protection.
They are threatened by habitat loss and roadkill. Feral and domestic dogs transmit diseases to them and are known to attack them.
The species is present in several protected areas, such as the Caraça and Emas national parks in Brazil. The maned wolf is well represented in captivity and has been successfully bred in many zoos, especially in Argentina, North America (under a Species Survival Plan) and Europe (under a European Endangered Species Program). In 2012, there were a total of 3,288 maned wolves in more than 300 institutions worldwide
The Smithsonian National Zoo Park has been working to protect maned wolves for nearly 30 years, and coordinates the North American Maned Wolf Species Survival Plan, which includes breeding maned wolves, studying them in the wild, protecting their habitat, and educating about them.
Human attitudes and opinions about maned wolves vary among populations, ranging from fear and tolerance to aversion.
In some regions of Brazil, some parts of the animal’s body are believed to help cure bronchitis, kidney disease and even snakebites. It is also believed to bring good luck. These parts can be teeth, heart, ears and even dried feces
In Bolivia, it is believed that riding a saddle made with maned wolf hide protects from bad luck. Despite these superstitions, there is no large-scale use of parts of this animal.
In urban societies in Brazil, people tend to be sympathetic to the maned wolf, as they do not see any value in it as a game animal or a pest. They tend to consider its preservation important and, although these societies associate it with strength and ferocity, they do not consider it a dangerous animal.
Although it is popular in some places and common in many zoos, it may go unnoticed. Studies conducted in zoos in Brazil showed that up to 30% of respondents did not know or could not recognize a maned wolf.
The Guarani considered it a common animal, and the first names used by Europeans, such as that of the Spanish Jesuit missionary José de Anchieta, were the same as those used by the natives (yaguaraçú)
The Spanish naturalist Félix de Azara also used the Guaraní name to describe it and was one of the first to describe the biology of the species and consider it an important part of the Paraguayan fauna.
Much of the negative view of the maned wolf as a predator of poultry comes from European ethnocentrism, where peasants used to have problems with wolves and foxes.
The maned wolf rarely causes antipathy in the human populations of the places where it lives, which is why it has been used as a flagship species for the preservation of the Brazilian cerrado. It is represented on the 200 reais banknote, launched in September 2020. It has also been represented on the 100 cruzeiros coin, which circulated in Brazil between 1993 and 1994.