“To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival”
Called a wolf and looking remarkably like a long-legged fox only adds to the mystique of this unique canid. Invariably described as a ‘fox on stilts’, the maned wolf (genus Chrysocyon – the only species in this genus) is not closely related to either fox or wolf. Its closest extant relative is the bush dog (genus Speothos). It is also very distantly related to a few others with bizarre names, such as the crab-eating fox and the short-eared dog.
But being one of a kind has not protected this species from the onslaught of encroaching agriculture and road building. A great many maned wolves are killed on the roads every year. A problem which has been addressed with introduced speed limits and local awareness, but as usual, not everyone takes note and fatalities on the roads are still high.
The maned wolf has been greatly misjudged in the past. Under the false label of chicken, cattle and sheep killer, it was once hunted mercilessly by farmers. It is now known these shy, retiring creatures will not approach human settlements for any reason, and will run away in fear if they see humans approaching elsewhere. Consequently, with the exception of a few very remote areas, the reputation of the maned wolf has altered in its favour.
Let’s not forget, of course, the now-to-be-expected threat of folk medicine. The eyes of the maned wolf are purported to bring good fortune and as a result are made into amulets. This is very local, not big business, and certainly not a serious threat to the species, but a change would be helpful.
The most remarkable feature of the maned wolf are the legs. Extraordinarily long, they are thought to be an adaptation enabling the species to see its prey in the tall grass. The legs have a pacing gait which allows each side of the body to move together, helping it to travel quickly across large areas of its territory.
Maned wolves weigh up to seventy-five pounds, can reach over three feet at the shoulder and be as long as five and a half feet from head to tip of tail. The ears are large, and can be rotated when listening for prey moving through the high grass.
Maned wolves have reddish-brown fur with black legs, a black muzzle, white markings on the throat and a white tip on the tail. They have a distinctive black ‘mane’ which, when erect, signals displays of aggression or potential threats, rather like a domestic dog’s hackles going up.
The species does not come together in packs, which is quite unusual in the canid world. They are mainly solitary animals and nocturnal hunters. In order to flush out its prey, the maned wolf will tap its foot on the ground, pounce and kill. It will kill the prey by biting the neck or back, or simply by shaking it to death.
Maned wolves are monogamous, coming together only during the breeding season. There is a gestation period of up to sixty-five days. After which a litter of anything between one and six pups, each weighing about one pound, will be born. Both eyes and ears are closed until the pups are nine days old. The mother will provide regurgitated food when they reach four weeks. By ten weeks, their black fur will change to red, and by fifteen weeks they will be fully weaned. They will still be reliant upon their parents for provision of food for their first year, at the end of which they will be fully grown. Originally, it was thought the female alone cared for the young. Now it is believed the male also takes part in this process.
Semi-open tall grasslands, wet grassland, woodlands and scrub forest.
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Peru. Possibly Uruguay – but it is generally thought they have been extirpated.
What they eat
Fruits and vegetable matter, insects, small reptiles, birds and small mammals such as cuis, rabbits and viscachas.
Habitat reduction due to agricultural conversion (mainly to soy bean plantations) and road building. Maned wolves are often killed on the roads, too. Competition with, and the transmission of diseases from, domestic dogs has also played a part in their decline. “The maned wolf is particularly susceptible to infection by the giant kidney worm, a potentially fatal parasite that may also infect domestic dogs.” (Wikipedia) Body parts are sometimes used in local folk medicine. The species do not have any natural predators.
Status: Near Threatened
The Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Near Threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future). The species is also listed under CITES Appendix 11. It is protected in Argentina as an endangered species and included on the list of threatened animals in Brazil. It is also included in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species List. Hunting is prohibited in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. Law enforcement is lax.
There are thought to be little more than twenty thousand maned wolves left in the wild today. Most of these are found in Brazil.
There are over four hundred maned wolves reportedly kept in captivity. Less than one hundred of these are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan. Mane wolves breed don’t well in captivity and there is a high recorded mortality rate of pups. There are various other conservation plans in progress initiated by a wide variety of non-profit organisations. One of which is the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – forest conversion plans have been put in place in the hope of restoring some of the maned wolf’s habitat.