Found in grasslands and savannas throughout the South American continent, the maned wolf stands out from all the rest. Though it looks like a "fox on stilts", as some people call it, it is neither a fox nor a wolf. Read on to learn more about this fascinating canid!
It’s Not a True Wolf
Though the maned wolf looks both like a wolf and a fox, it is neither. Instead, it belongs to a lineage of South American canines that are distantly separate from the rest of the dog family, Canidae. This unique group forms the clade Cerdocyonina. This clade split apart from wolves and other canines around 9-10 million years ago. Though many species in this group are called “foxes”, they aren’t considered actual true foxes. To avoid confusion, some zoologists recommend calling species in this group zorros, after the Spanish word for foxes.
This canine is an omnivore. It will pursue smaller animals, such as rodents, birds, and reptiles like many of its cousins; unusually, it will also consume lots of plant material for a canine. In some studies, around 50% of the maned wolf’s diet consists of vegetables, roots, tubers, and fruits. There is a plant known as the wolf apple (or lobeira, meaning ‘wolf’s plant’ in Spanish) whose tomato-like berries are also favored by the maned wolf. In some parts of its range, they can compose around 40-90% of its entire diet! This species also serves as an important seed disperser for the wolf apple.
Maned Wolves Have Long Legs
The maned wolf is the tallest canine species living today, thanks to its long, lanky legs. Its long legs are an adaptation for its savanna lifestyle, as it helps them navigate and peer over and through the tall grasses. The maned wolf prefers open grasslands and savannas throughout its range, including the Cerrado and the Pampas. The maned wolf also sports other adaptations that help this animal survive in its open environment. Its large ears help detect prey hiding through the underbrush. Maned wolves are crepuscular in behavior, usually being active around dawn and dusk when temperatures are cooler. Some can also become active at night, but this animal prefers resting during the day.
They Make Unique Noises
Most canines, such as wolves, communicate through a series of barks, howls, and yelps. The maned wolf, however, is usually a quiet animal. Sometimes, this animal will occasionally produce a sound known as “roar-barking”. A study has shown that maned wolves primarily roar-bark to communicate amongst their bonded mates. Though maned wolves are solitary, they will also form monogamous breeding pairs. These calls are often emitted when pairs are separated over long distances. The pairs will also share territories amongst each other, along with their offspring.
Their Urine is Pungent in Scent
The maned wolf’s urine produces a pungent odor that reeks strongly of hops or cannabis. In fact, the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands once called the police to search for potential marijuana smokers on zoo grounds, only to find out that the scent was coming from the maned wolves themselves! Their distinctive smell helps these canines mark their territories. Pyrazines, which are chemicals found in both cannabis and hops plants, are what cause the species' urine to smell strongly. Because of this, the maned wolf is sometimes called the “skunk wolf”.
5. Maned Wolves Need our Help
As of 2015, the maned wolf is currently listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List. Maned wolves have been listed as a threatened species before, and it is also considered endangered in some parts of its range. These beautiful canines are threatened by a variety of factors, including habitat destruction and poaching.
Though maned wolves are very adaptable to man-made environments, they’re still in decline in many parts of their range due to habitat loss. Humans are also targeting them for their body parts, as some of their organs are erroneously believed to cure various health ailments. Some people persecute them out of sheer ignorance or from cultural superstitions. Sometimes, maned wolves (typically juveniles) are also captured for private captive collections. Domestic dogs pose a major risk for the maned wolf, as they’ve been reported to kill them. Dogs also spread diseases onto maned wolves, such as canine distemper, parvovirus, and even certain strains of canine coronaviruses.
Fortunately, the maned wolf is protected in many parts of its range thanks to conservationists, and lots of work is being done to conserve its natural environment. Zoos are also working to research this canine, and breeding programs have been established to form a captive insurance population. You can help the maned wolf by raising awareness among your friends and family. You can also support conservation organizations that are working to save maned wolves and their habitats.