Featured Creature: Maned Wolf

Photo by Zdenek Machacek

What South American creature has super long legs, urine that smells like a skunk, and is a faithful mate for life?

The Maned Wolf! 

Photo by Zdenek Machacek

I first learned about the maned wolf when I stumbled upon its species profile on the Smithsonian website. When I saw the first picture on the page, I was immediately reminded of my beautiful golden retriever, Genevieve. Just like her, the maned wolf has a stunning and thick reddish-gold coat and a regal stance. But then I saw the second photo of a maned wolf, and I couldn’t help but chuckle because its face reminded me of the lively fox that Bert rescues during the fox hunt in Mary Poppins. 

Just like Genevieve and the fox in Mary Poppins, the maned wolf is a canid species. However, it is neither a fox nor a wolf. Fittingly, the eye-catching maned wolf stands alone as its own species within the Canidae family!

40 Years Ago, A Friendship Began In Brazil…

The maned wolf is native to the South American grasslands, particularly an extensive savanna biome in Brazil called the Cerrado. During the 1980s, Santuário do Caraça in Brazil began to notice that a creature had been raiding their waste bins after dark. After some patience and nighttime observation of the bins, a monk discovered that the maned wolf had been making regular visits to the waste bins. The monks began leaving out trays of meat at the top of the monastery steps, and eventually, the maned wolves began visiting the trays for food. This practice has continued for 40 years, and the wolves still come around occasionally to the delight of guests who visit just for the experience. 

Photo by Robert Thiemann

The Canid With Cat-Like Reflexes

Maned wolves consume a variety of food sources to balance their diet. They are agile predators that use their long, thin legs to pounce on small rodents, rabbits, and birds. With the speed and accuracy of a housecat, they track and trap their next meal. The maned wolf’s legs are an asset for hunting and foraging in the South American grasslands because they also allow for leaping through the air and digging into the ground to find food. And when a maned wolf senses a threat, the dark brown mass of fur on its neck will stand on end, resembling a horse mane.

Photo by Chris Unger

They also incorporate insects and fruit into their diet. In particular, the maned wolf loves the tasty lobeira fruit.  In fact, they love it so much that the fruit makes up a significant portion of their diet and has been coined the “wolf’s apple” by humans. 

“Lobeira” by Jmarconi (from Flickr)

The Introverted Cousin 

Maned wolves don’t stick together as a pack in the way that most foxes and wolves might. Instead, they maintain a more solitary lifestyle. When the sun goes down, this nocturnal species will prowl around for any delicious food it can find, typically fending for itself rather than hunting with a pack. During the mating season, the maned wolf typically claims a piece of territory and enters a monogamous relationship with a mate.  Here!

Threatened, But Not Necessarily Threatening

Possibly the most threatening trait that the maned wolf poses to humans is its urine that has a strong odor reminiscent of a skunk’s spray. The wolves do not tend to intentionally harm humans; instead, humans tend to harm the maned wolf population. Hunting, land-use change due to agriculture, roadside accidents, and the spread of infectious diseases has led to a decrease in maned wolf habitat and population numbers. Thankfully, conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Maned Wolf Working Group are taking action to protect this fascinating species