What is a maned wolf?
The maned wolf isn't a very well-known animal, which is surprising because this odd creature is one of the most unusual examples of the canidae family.
Looking at this creature, you can see why because, quite frankly, this is one freaky looking wolf. The wolf's front legs even somewhat resemble human arms! The only way to possibly describe this creature is it's a sort of cross between a wolf, fox and a deer.
Watching the maned wolf run is surprising similar to a deer running, this is due to the uniquely long legs the maned wolf has developed to be able to see above long grass while running.
The smell of the maned wolfs urine is also very distinctive and led the wolf to be known as the 'skunk wolf' by many who have encountered this creature; can you guess why?
Although we call it a wolf, it technically isn't one, and although it looks like a fox on stilts - it isn't one either; nor a dog, a coyote, or even a jackal. It is a member of the canidae family (chrysocyon brachyurus) and the largest canid in South America, as well as the only species in the genus chrysocyon, which means ‘golden dog’.
Maned wolf's habitat
So where does the maned wolf live?
Maned wolves' natural habitat is tall grasslands; they can be observed in many South American countries including Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay. Mainly living in the open grass- and scrubland, it can also be encountered in woodlands and, occasionally, on farmlands where they hunt for prey.
These habitats are often inclined to flooding seasonally, and this is where those uniquely long legs come in handy - they carry the wolf well above the water, keeping its body dry.
Maned wolf's physiology
The maned wolf acquired its name through its characteristic mane which stands up when it senses danger.
Maned wolf puppies have dark fur, so dark, in fact, that it's almost black. As they mature, their coats begin to change colour and adapt the characteristic reddish-brown hue. The legs and mane, however, will remain dark even into adulthood. Occasionally white spots have been observed on the chin, throat and even the tip of the tail.
When threatened, the thick mane hairs stand erect, making the animal appear larger. To the bluff, an anxious mane wolf will stand upright, lower its head, and threateningly arch its back.
The wolf weighs approximately 20 - 25kg and stands at a meter tall supported by its unusually long legs. Its ears stand erect much like the ears of a red fox.
Wolf's long legs not only help it in case of a flood, but also make it a better hunter. Living surrounded by tall grass, it makes it way easier to spot the prey from 'the above'.
Maned wolf's diet
Maned wolves usually hunt at night, and during dusk and dawn. They are omnivorous creatures, and primarily eat small mammals such as wild guinea pigs, rabbits and other fast-running rodents. Maned wolf uses its long legs and fox-like ears to locate its prey within the long grass and undergrowth. Insects, reptiles and birds are also a regular part of its diet, as well as fruits. They particularly seem to enjoy a tomato-like fruit called lobeira, which is thought to help the wolf ward off parasitic kidney worms. Sugarcane and other plants and nuts are also a crucial part of its diet.
They have a symbiotic relationship with a range of plants in their habitat. When they eat the fruit, they disperse seeds which have a significantly increased germination rate which is believed to be due to passing through the wolf's digestive tract.
Occasionally maned wolves have been known to prey on pampas deer and have repeatedly been reported to steal poultry from nearby farmlands, causing issues with farmers which often lead to shooting and killing of this remarkable creature.
Maned wolf's behaviour
Much like the fox, maned wolves are solitary animals, what makes them so distinctive from regular wolves that are typically cooperative animals living in breeding packs. The maned wolf is often found in male-female mated pairs, but that is their limit. Individuals usually remain independent of one another and only couple together during the breeding season, which runs from April to June.
Female wolves give birth much like many in the canid family, typically to a litter of one to five pups a year after a two-month gestation period.
It is unclear who in the mating pair cares for the pups during their juvenile stage; it is believed that only the females care for the young, suckling them for up to 15 weeks, however, in captivity, males have been observed caring for and defending the young, even feeding them through regurgitation.
Once the pups reach maturity, they will vacate their home in search of solitude and a mate, but they usually don't reproduce until two years after leaving their parents.
The rare "roar-bark"
The maned wolf has one of the most peculiar barks of all canines, the rare roar-bark. Below is a video of this unusual noise.
Maned wolf's predators
Maned wolves have no natural predators in the wild, the only threat they currently have is the humans. Killed for their fur in the 18th century, and still being killed today for the believed spiritual properties of their skin and tail. Mass habitat destruction is also a considerable threat and could wipe them out for good if no action is taken.
The maned wolf population
Is the maned wolf endangered?
Classified as near threatened and estimated to be approximately 13,000 mature individuals remaining in the wild, continuously declining each year, these wolves who survived mass killing for their fur in the 18th century are currently under threat of extinction due to habitat loss and are also being killed along roadsides while hunting for prey.
Domestic dogs are also a threat to the maned wolf, but not necessarily because they are killing them. The threat comes from diseases which could potentially spread throughout the population, decimating the numbers.
Attempts have been made to try breed the wolves in captivity but have mostly been unsuccessfully for unknown reasons. Research has and is currently being conducted into behaviour influencing hormones, nutrition and stress in captivity, as well as the use of modern reproductive technologies.