Wildlife Guide: Maned Wolf
What is a Maned Wolf? All About the maned wolf's life cycle, behaviors, conservation, and where to see one in the wild.
Did you know?
Maned Wolf Fun Facts
1. What’s in a name? Their super long legs and red coat earned them the nickname, “Fox-on-stilts”
2. Fox? Wolf? A maned wolf is really not a wolf or a fox – in fact they unique in the animal world, and the only species left in their genus.
3. How’s the weather? People in Brazil listen for the maned wolf’s night cry to predict the next day’s weather.
4. Knock-knock, anyone home? They tap the ground with their foot to lure rodents and other small mammals underground out into the open – then they pounce!
A Maned Wolf is Sometimes Called
Guara wolf or “lobo-guara” in Brazil. Their other nicknames include “fox-on-stilts” for their long legs, and for "fruit wolf" their penchant for fruit. Some people call them: “skunk fox” because of the very strong distinctive odor of the urine they use to mark territory.
Nearest Relatives to the Maned Wolf
Genus and Species
Subspecies of Maned Wolf
They are the only species in their genus. There are no subspecies of the maned wolf.
Closest Living Relative
The maned wolf is not closely related to other canids. Their closest relative is the small, (12-15 lb / 5.5 -7 kg) very elusive, and rare bush dog (Speothos venaricus), also not a canid. Bush dogs are found in South America, in wet grassland savanna. These little carnivores hunt for their mostly rodent diet in packs and are semi-aquatic, note the webbed feet. The bush dog is IUCN assessed: Near Threatened.
There are no other members of the Chrysocyon genus; the maned wolf is all-alone. They are the only large canid species to survive the late Pleistocene extinction of South American canids.
How Many Maned Wolves Are Left in the Wild?
IUCN Red List: Near Threatened
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), there is an estimated 26,000 maned wolves left in the wild and a few hundred in captive breeding programs in zoos. See: "Encouraging News" below for more information. Maned wolves are found in the grasslands of Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, and northern Argentina. They are extinct in Uruguay.
Maned Wolf Conservation Notes
Habitat loss from encroaching human populations, including deforestation and the burning of their grassland habitat for farm use, plus the diseases introduced by domesticated animals, including dogs, have all taken a heavy toll on the maned wolf. Along with more humans came hunting encouraged by myth and erroneous beliefs: the first was the idea that maned wolves’ organs were medicinal (the teeth) or lucky (the right eye ball); the second is that maned wolves killed livestock and chickens. In truth, this animal’s organs are only useful to the individual maned wolf to which they are connected. As for killing livestock, aside from small rodents, fish, and some birds, these animals are mostly vegetarian. Physically, although the manned wolf is large enough, his small teeth and jaws make it highly improbable, if not impossible, for him to kill any livestock other than the occasional newborn lamb, pig, or free range chicken. See below "On the Menu" for more information. Aside from being hunted, another human born threat is the motor vehicle. Farms, ranches, and mineral mines are fast breaking up huge expanses of the Cerrado. New roads follow human settlement, and traffic follows the new roads. Vehicles on the Trans-Chaco highway are responsible for killing numerous maned wolves every year.
The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) and the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) have both taken a great interest in maned wolf conservation. The AZA has added the species to their American Species Survival Plan (SSP). SSP efforts include captive breeding programs, species studies, and education of the public, especially care takers and policy makers in the animal's habitat regions. Argentina has declared the maned wolf endangered. Hunting maned wolve is now illegal in Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Bolivia. The governments of both Argentina and Bolivia are actively taking part in the conservation efforts.
How to Identify a Maned Wolf
Adult Height: 35 inches (90 cm) tall at the shoulder.
Adult Weight: 50 pounds (23 kg)
The maned wolf’s long red-gold hair with black details and slim, delicate snout is similar to a red fox but they are taller and bigger. Their long, slim legs evolved to help them peer over the tall grasses of their habitat. The lower portion is black making them look like they are wearing stockings. These disproportionately lengthy limbs give them their nickname “Fox-on-stilts.” Their ears are significant too, up to 7 inches (18 cm), but their short tail is only 18 inches (45 cm) – falling about half-way down their long legs. Males and females are about the same size.
Maned wolves get their name from the distinctive black hair that runs in a stripe from the backs of their heads to their shoulders. This hair stands straight up when they are agitated and appears very much like a mane.
Understanding Maned Wolves
Maned wolves mate for life and share territories, but only come together for breeding and early pup rearing. Gestation is 60-66 days, and usually two to six pups are born in a den which both of the parents help find. The pups are born with all black coloring turning to golden-red as they mature. When the female is having the pups or nursing, the male will protect it. In captivity, both parents have been observed regurgitating food for the pups; it is not known if this happens in the wild. Although they are weaned by 15 weeks, the young are dependent for about 10 months. They stay with their mother until they reach adulthood at a year and half to two years.
Maned wolves can live 12-15 years in captivity, but in the wild they are are very susceptible to giant kidney worms, which come from the fish they eat. See Below: On the Menu for more information. There is comparatively little known about maned wolf behaviors in the wild, although a number of zoos and institutions including the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute are doing captive breeding and studying programs. See above: "Encouraging News" for more information.
What do Maned Wolves eat?
Maned wolves are omnivorous but love fruit, especially the lobeira fruit, which is similar to a tomato. These animals are so connected to this particular plant that it is also known as “fruta do lobo” or “fruit of the wolf.” Researchers believe that this fruit helps control a deadly parasite called Dioctophyme renale, or giant kidney worm. They also eat guavas, bananas, and other fruits and vegetables, as well as fish, mollusks, small rodents, rabbits, armadillos, pacas, and birds.
What are They Doing?
Funny Smells: It’s probably the maned wolf. They mark their territory and buried prey, and communicate with each other with urine; the smell is so strong and pungent that they are locally called “skunk-foxes.”
Shy and timid creatures even with their families, they mate for life but live mostly separately in their shared territory, only coming together to breed and care for the young. Unlike other wolves, they hunt alone too. If you want to see a maned wolf you need to be very, very quiet. They are cautious and skittish and would prefer to run from danger rather than stand and fight.
Maned wolves are more active in the cooler parts of the day, very early morning and evening. Look for maned wolves in tall grass. If you see one staring intensely at the ground and tapping it with its foot - keep watching! He is trying to coax a small mammal into the open so he can pounce!
Maned Wolf Communication
A pair’s shared territory can be up to 10 – 12 square miles (27-30 sq. km.) Since they live mostly alone, but mate for life, urine marking is the most important aspect of the communication between them. They crisscross each other’s trails, marking along the way; they also mark hunting trails and buried prey. The animals have a range of vocalizations including whines, yips and a loud bark called a “roar-bark.” Listen at night for their cries; in Brazil it is believed that they predict a change in weather.
Range and Habitat
Maned wolves are found in the wet grasslands of Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia and especially the Cerrado and Pantanal regions of Brazil. They favor open wet grasslands or mixed forest with open grassland areas and wet fields that occasionally flood. Their long legs are an adaptation to their tall grass habitat.
They like some shrub density for cover and shade, but usually avoid areas with forest canopy. Some populations move into croplands because of the large numbers of small rodents that inhabit them. Maned wolves are more active in cooler weather, traveling further to forage. A typical defended range can be up to up to 10 – 12 square miles (27-30 sq km). The best places to experience maned wolves are in Brazil.
What is the Cerrado? The Brazillian Cerrado, located between the Amazon, Atlantic forests, and the Panatal, is the largest savanna region in South America and one of the most bio-diverse areas on the planet. Spanning four states in Brazil, it is an area the size of England, France, Germany, and Spain combined (770,000 sq. miles / 2-million sq. km) and disappearing at the rate of 2.5 soccer fields per minute.
According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) the Cerrado has the unfortunate distinction of being destroyed at an even faster rate than the neighboring rainforest. Only 20% of its original vegetation remains intact. – less than 3% is protected. At this rate Conservation International estimates it will be gone in 25 years. What will be lost? 1,600 known species of mammals, birds, and reptiles and 10,000 known plants – how many undiscovered is anyone’s guess. Among the endangered species found in the Corrado are: the giant ant eater, marsh and pampas deer, the jaguar and of course, our timid, beautiful, and threatened maned wolf.
What is the Pantanal? Smaller, but more well known than the Cerrado, the Pantanal is a large region encompassing the world’s largest contiguous tropical wetland area. Located in the central-west part of Brazil, it is mostly in the state of Mato Grosso do Sol, but some of its approximately 75,000 square miles (195,000 sq. kilometers) also extends into portions of Bolivia and Paraguay. The name itself comes from the Portuguese word, pantano, which means swamp.10 major rivers flow though the Pantanal, they and their deltas, plus thousands of lakes, forests and grasslands make up this giant wetland basin surrounded by uplands
Enemies and Threats
Man is by far the greatest threat to maned wolf existence. Habitat encroachment, domestic animal born diseases, and hunting, as well as auto accidents are all taking a huge toll. For more information see above: "Conservation Notes"
A Personal Note:
Have you seen a maned wolf in the wild? Tell us about it and we will print your story.
Three Places to see the Maned Wolf
The Pantanal, Mato Grosso do Sul
Fazenda San Francisco: Located 22 miles (36 km) northwest of of the city of Miranda on the banks of the Miranda river, Fazenda San Francisco is a working ranch, rice farm, and eco-tourism lodge. It is also a popular "day-trip" destination for the locals, so the family oriented restaurant may be crowded, but do not let that stop you. There are comfortable accommodations for up to 40, a swimming pool, and even a museum. The owners put great emphasis on wildlife watching and provide opportunities for viewing on both land and river, day and evening. The best time for maned wolves is early morning, but be sure to try your luck spotting a jaguar on night game tour.
Wildlife Bonus: Giant otter, Neotropical otter, giant anteater, four species of deer, ocelot, crab-eating fox, Brazilian porcupine and jaguar and the beautiful hyacinth and blue and yellow macaws.
The Brazilian Cerrado,
Parnaiba Headwaters National Park
Located in the state of Piauí, Brazil’s newest (2002) national park, Parnaiba Headwaters National Park, is the largest protected area outside the Amazon with over 1.8 million acres (404,700 hectares). The early Portuguese settlers called this the land “Beyond Nowhere”, and indeed it is a 4-5 hour drive from the nearest airport at Barreiras, but sometimes beyond nowhere is exactly the right place to be. This is home to some of the most unusual wildlife in Brazil.
The Wolf Camp Lodges:There are only two operational eco-camp / lodges in the park. The camps were established in the middle 1990’s and early 2000’s, under the auspices of conservation biologist Dr. Charles Munn lll, a full 12 years prior to the designation of the area as Parnaiba Headwaters National Park. Dr. Munn first came to this remote region in 1987 to locate and document the dwindling hyacinth macaw population. He found the macaws – and a thriving illegal wildlife trafficking industry.
Dr. Munn also understood there might be an opportunity here, through responsible wildlife tourism, to reverse the situation for the benefit of the wildlife, the habitat, tourists, future generations, and even the traffickers. The SouthWild Wolf Camps were born.
The two camps are an experience in the power of responsible eco-tourism to change the lives of both humans and wildlife. Give yourself time at both of the camps – a day or two at least. This is not a do-it-yourself tour. The guide, provided by the camps will make sure you get the most out of this unusual wildlife experience.
Wolf Valley Camp: At the very edge of PHNP, outside the village of Sao Goncolo, Wolf Valley Camp is your gateway to a natural wonder. Built on his 2,500 acres (1,012 hectares) of private land, Lourival Lima’s guests have described him as an “animal whisperer”. That he understands wildlife is probably not surprising, that he is a foremost protector of it, is. Lourival was formerly one of the most infamous wildlife traders (read: poacher / hunter) in Brazil. He is now a champion of wildlife preservation. .
Wolf Valley Camp is famous for its hyacinth macaws. They are huge at 3.3 ft. (1m) tall, brilliantly colored birds that gather there for the palm nuts they crack open with a thundering smash. Watch them from the special blind.
Wolf Cliff Camp: Wolf Cliff camp sits on 10,000 acres (4,047 hectares) of private property bought by the non-profit wildlife conservation group, BioBrasil Foundation with funds raised by Dr. Munn.
At Wolf Cliff Camp you will really be able to view and experience the maned wolves who regularly come right into the camp.
From there your guide can take you deeper into the park to witness what scientists have dubbed “Einstein monkeys” at work. This troop of capuchin monkeys carefully examines a nut, finds the most strategic side to balance it, then uses stone tools, some as big as their own heads, to open them. They are the only non-ape primate to use tools.
The Facilities: Both lodges are simple, efficient, and sustainably run. Both have private bathrooms and showers. Neither have air-conditioning nor a pool, but you will not miss them. Wolf Valley Camp has a generator for electricity (at strategic times) so you are able to charge your equipment, but not Wolf Cliffs. Visitor reviews have noted both camp/lodges for surprisingly delicious meals - and wonderful wildlife experiences.
Wildlife Bonus: 195 mammal species including: maned wolf, giant anteaters, giant or canastra armadillos, bearded capuchin monkeys (famous as the first documented non-ape primate tool users), tufted marmosets, Brazilian guinea pigs, and the cats: jaguar, ocelot, and jaguarundi. 200 amphibian species, including rare and endangered tree frogs.
Bird Watching Bonus: 600 bird species including: the hyacinth, red and green, blue and gold, and the critically endangered Spix's macaw. Burrowing owls, jenday conure and blue crowned parakeets, swallow-tailed hummingbirds, and 20 very rare endemic species such as blue-eyed ground doves and Brasilia tapaculo
Read more about the incredible beginning of this special destination: How a Former Wildlife trafficker and a Biologist are Saving a Species
The Road Less Traveled
Brazil: Serra de Canastra National Park
Few visitors come to this UNESCO World Heritage site located in Southwestern State of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Established in 1972 as a national park to protect the source of Brazil’s third largest river, the Sao Francisco, this park is comprised of two high plateaus with an expansive valley between. Its altitude ranges from 3,000 to 4,500 feet (900 to 1500 m). Serra da Canastra’s 274 sq. miles (71,525 hectares) are home to over 1,000 known animal and 354 bird species.
There are no accommodations of any kind inside this magnificent park, but there are many waterfalls, including the Cachoeira Casca D’Anta near the source of Sao Francisco River, and hundreds of small streams, little patches of cloud forest, gallery forests, expanses of grasslands (cerrado) and flowering fields, and even caves with ancient cave paintings and the remnants of an ancient fugitive slave village.
Although a 6-mile (10 Km) ecological buffer zone around the park was established, a few hundred individual diamond miners are still active in it, and the surrounding area is home to 86 ranches and soy bean farms and their continued ecological impacts: chemical pollution, deforestation, and habitat destruction.
The closest village to the park’s entrance is Sao Roque de Minas, and since 2006 there is a paved road from the village to the park. A number of beautiful locally run inns and hotels have been established in the area – the tourism industry is starting to make a positive impact on the economy and ecology. Go and enjoy!
Wildlife Bonus: Giant armadillo, giant anteater, otter, titi monkey, pampas deer, and puma plus 354 bird species including the endangered Brazilian merganser, rhea (a large flightless bird that looks similar to an ostrich), savanna hawk, and toucan.
Responsible Maned Wolf Viewing Tips
Preparing for Your Maned Wolf Adventure
The maned wolf is not a forest dweller but inhabits the tall grass savanna on the forest edge. The best time to see them is in the dry season between April and October when the grass is less lush. They are shy and skittish animals that hunt in the cooler early morning or evening hours.
Viewing the timid and elusive maned wolf is probably not a do-it-yourself project. Stay at a good eco-lodge where there is a naturalist or hire a local guide for early morning and evening game rides or hikes. These animals prefer wetter grassy areas so prepare your feet accordingly.
Be a Responsible Wildlife Tourist
Like most canids these guys are not above taking an easy handout – but, for their safety and yours, do NOT give in to temptation. Wild animals are wild. They are susceptible to domestic animal born diseases and, when acclimated to humans as a food source, can become pests. But even the most timid can also become dangerous if they begin to associate humans with food. Wild animal that lose their fear of humans, especially due to being fed, are likely to be exterminated for the "safety" of the humans. Protect wildlife, let it be wild.
Show and Tell
We want to hear about your maned wolf adventures. Have you seen a maned wolf? Tell us about it!