The maned wolf of South America is not a wolf at all, but a wild dog–but it looks like a cross between a wolf and a fox. Maned wolves live in open grasslands, on the edges of forests or in the marshlands of Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina.
Taller than any other wild dogs, maned wolves stand on long legs that allow them to spot prey over expanses of tall grass. Their height also helps them see approaching danger. Like many wild animals with manes, the dogs can make their fur can stand on end, making them look bigger and more threatening to enemies.
These wild dogs eat small and medium-sized animals, including rodents, rabbits, birds and fish. They turn their large ears this way and that to listen for movements in the grass, then tap the ground with their front feet to flush the prey out. While maned wolves enjoy meat just like other dogs, plants and fruits make up about half their diet. They use their sharp incisor teeth to tear meat and crush plants with their broad, flat molars.
The dogs serve as seed carriers for many of the plants they eat—starting a cycle when they defecate on ant nests. The ants use the dung to fertilize their fungus gardens—later discarding the seeds onto piles just outside the nest. This rich environment promotes germination of the seeds. And so the plants grow to feed the wild dogs once again.
Unlike other wild dogs, maned wolves do not form packs. They hunt alone, usually in the early evening. A male and female may share territory but they are seldom together except to mate. Their range is criss-crossed by paths they have made when patrolling at night. Occasionally small groups of maned wolves do meet at a plentiful food source.
Unfortunately, the maned wolf has earned many enemies because of its nocturnal activities as a chicken thief. Some farmers believe that these dogs also kill cattle and sheep, but this is now known to be untrue.
The Brazilian government has recently classified the maned wolf as an endangered species and has given it legal protection. The dogs suffer from the same loss of habitat that other wild species do. In addition, some are struck by cars or attacked by domestic dogs.
The maned wolf is a shy animal and poses very little threat to humans. A number of zoos have bred these dogs successfully, so they are well represented in captivity. Click here to see pups born and raised at the Houston Zoo–Pups at play.
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