Posts Tagged ‘maned wolf’

maned wolf bring em back

Of late, there has been a trend among some with ecological and romantic flights of fancy. They call it “rewilding.”   Put wolves and beavers and moose in the Scottish Highlands and let them roam. Turn out recreated aurochs onto the great plains and marshland of the Netherlands. Or maybe clone the woolly mammoth and let it thunder across the taiga again.

Some wags have even suggested stocking the American west with the modern maned lion of Africa. As ersatz as the puny leo might be compared the great atrox lion, I don’t think many cattlemen would approve.

Life in the Anthropocene is oddly disconcerting.  Our species has risen to its highest level of technological advancement. We’ve become terrestrial deities in a world we barely understand and from which we become more and more alienated from its life processes. We think it is moral to attack indigenous seal hunters in Canada but don’t think the mass producing of extreme brachycephaly in the dogs we claim to love is even worth discussing.

Simply put, we are a mess.

But I’ve often wondered in all these conversation about rewilding, why we don’t we try something a bit easier than cloned mammoths and savage lions?

The maned wolf is big wild dog native to South America, and although it now roams the grasslands of Brazil and a few adjacent countries, it first appeared in the fossil record in the American Southwest. Its fossilized remains come from the Blancan in what is now New Mexico and Arizona.

Much has been made about the Mexican wolves that have been introduced to that country, but maned wolves were there long before the true wolves and coyotes roamed the canyons and mountains. There were there among the last of the borophagine dogs and the running dog-like hyena.  The ancestor of the modern wolf and coyote was a puny little jackal thing that roamed among the big dogs and the hyenas and the big-fanged cats as they tore into their kills.

The big bad bone-crushers and big-toothed cats are all gone.  All we can do is search around for things that were roughly contemporary with that bestiary.  The best I can come up with is the maned wolf.

And the maned wolf has a lot going for it. It’s called “wolf,” because European imaginations were so limited when it came to describing this long-legged beast of the grasslands.  It actually feeds much more like a red fox, attacking small prey in the open expanses of grass and nibbling away at fruit. It doesn’t pack up at all. It just goes around on stilt legs, hunting like the diminutive Reynard at the edges of humanity’s conquest.

In a land of chicken houses, it wouldn’t be too welcome, but in a land of open range, it wouldn’t be too much trouble. It would be a curiosity to see the red coyote on black stilts slinking along some arid grassland, pouncing upon kangaroo rats and pack rats that scurry along in range of its ears.

I don’t how it would fare in a sea of coyotes. Indeed, it is the dogs of that lineage that came to rule this continent. Different waves of Eurasian wolf species dominated the maned wolf and its kin in North America, and if many of these odd North American canids hadn’t wandered in South America, they would have been lost entirely.

South America has held onto these lineages, like a canid version of Jurassic Park, and if we are to play around with this rewilding concept a bit, I bet we could find a place to restore a few pairs of maned wolves.

I say this tongue-in-cheek, because I know fully well this will never happen. It’s not going to capture the imagination of the most romantic rewilders. It’s not a particularly fell beast like a lion or a recreated aurochs.

But if we really believe in all this rewilding stuff, why the heck not?

It is true that climate has changed since the last time maned wolves roamed the Southwest, but I am sure we can find areas that could hold them well. We might have to go to Texas, and Texas is already home to all sorts of animals that belong in tropical and semitropical savannas, like blackbuck and nilgai. I’m sure could find a good place there to set out some true North American “wolves.”

Most rewilding theories and postulates are nothing but flights of fancy, and I’m happy to indulge myself here. This isn’t going to happen, and if you push me a bit, I’m going to say this is silly.

But maybe the roar-bark of lobo-guará will someday rise among the coyote yodels on some Southwestern twilight.  The big red coyote on stilts will become a legend as the great cattle and sheep-killing wolves once did. A beast from North America’s deep past now roams the backcountry, no longer dead but on the prowl.



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They aren’t the most genetically distant canids from wolves. That would be the Urocyon species.

Reproductive technologies in domestic dogs will lead the way.

I have this bizarre fantasy of someone setting up a ranch in the Southwest for the purpose of rewilding maned wolves. The oldest fossil remains of maned wolves actually do come from the Southwestern US,but the species is now confined to South America.


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melanistic maned wolf

I don’t know how I missed this story, but a black maned wolf was photographed in a nature reserve in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

Unlike the melanism seen in wolves and coyotes, we know that this coloration didn’t originate from crossing with domestic dogs.

But it’s such a cool animal!

Here are some other photos.

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Maned wolf pup

This is a maned wolf pup.

They are born dark gray, but they can be distinguished from true wolf pups because of their white-tipped tails.

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This image comes from an article in Scientific American in 1878 .

The description of the photo goes as follows:

The animal shown in our illustration has been sometimes called the “maned wolf,” but is more commonly known as the “red wolf,” from its predominant color. The zoological name is Canis jubatus. It was first described by D’Azara, a South American traveler, who gave its native name as aguara guazu, in the countries of the Rio de la Plata and Paraguay, where it is commonly found. It is, when full-grown, one of the larger beasts of the wolf kind, and its body is covered with long, stiff, shaggy hair, mostly of a reddish hue, but often with a white spot on the throat; the hair inside the ears and at the extremity of the tail is also whitish. The mane consists of stiff hairs, five or six inches long, which grow black at the tips; and this mane, which stands erect, extends from the occiput to behind the shoulder. The tail is rather bushy. The habits of this species of wolf are solitary; it frequents the low lying plains and marshes of the Paraguay, and the sand banks in the La Plata, feeding here on land crabs, there on rats, guinea pigs, and small birds, or some kinds of vegetables. The specimen from which our engraving is taken is now in the collection of the London Zoological Society, and is said by the Illustrated News to be the first yet carried alive to England (pg. 183).

In the nineteenth century, the term “red wolf” applied only to the animal we call the maned wolf, which is no longer called Canis jubatus but is now called Chrysocyon brachyurus. In the nineteenth century, most zoologists assumed that it was a close relative of the true wolves of Eurasia and North America.

It’s actually not.

It is the largest of all the South American wild dogs, which comprise monophyletic subtribe within the larger canid tribe called canini.

Its closest living relative is the bush dog, which is very much unlike a maned wolf. It’s short-legged and chocolate-colored, and it also possesses the unique trenchant heel dentition that African wild dogs and dhole– both closer relatives of the true wolf– also possess.

It is often claimed that Audubon was the first to call the reddish-colored wolves of Texas “red wolves.”  But, as we have seen, any careful reading of Audubon’s text shows that Audubon didn’t regard it as a particularly distinct animal. It was nothing more than a color phase.

For most of modern history, the term “red wolf” has always referred to the maned wolf.

And no one argues that this animal is taxonomically distinct.

The animal upon which this image was based was the first of its kind in England.  It could have been listed as some kind of giant South American fox, which is a closer approximation to its true taxonomy and phylogeny.

But the only way to describe it to North American and European audiences was to call it a “red wolf.”

There really was no other way to describe it.

Plus, its name in Spanish and Portuguese was very often some variant  of the word lobo. which does mean wolf. In some Spanish-speaking regions, it is called “el lobo colorado,” the red wolf.

For whatever reason, the term “red wolf” began to refer to the color phase of wolf described by Audubon and Bachman.

But for most of the past three hundred years, the term “red wolf” referred to the animal we call a maned wolf.

The great irony is that although this animal isn’t actually a wolf, its closest relative was the warrah, which most of us know as the Falkland Islands wolf.  It has the dubious distinction of being the only canid species to have gone extinct in historic times.

It wasn’t a wolf either, but it was first described as the “Antarctic wolf,” Canis antarcticus.

Because both of these animals were larger than the so-called South American foxes, they were called “wolves.”

But the foxes weren’t actually foxes,  and the wolves weren’t wolves.

Indeed, it’s now been revealed that all the South American canids derive from a common ancestor, and they are all more closely related to each other than true wolves are to true foxes.

The maned wolf, of course, is nothing like a true wolf.

It has some physical similarities, but beyond that, it has very little similarities.

They don’t hunt in packs. They eat a lot of fruit.

They live in territories with just a mated pair that never forage together and are rarely seen in exactly the same place.

Every attempt to domesticate the maned wolf has been a failure.

And yes, people have tried.

Wouldn’t you want a pet that looks like that?

Unlike the so-called red wolf of North America, this South American canid is quite distinct.

It actually does have unambiguous conservation value, for there really isn’t anything else quite like it.

So maybe we should go back to calling this animal “the red wolf.”

It’s a far more fitting and accurate title for this animal than the coyote-derived wolf impostors that are currently being kept on  national park and national forest land.

But its name is Guarani is perhaps a better fit:

Aguará guazú.

Now that name has a very exotic ring to it.

And this is a very exotic animal.

There’s nothing else like it anywhere else in the world.

And the Brazilian government has wisely decided to offer this animal legal protection. It’s not really an endangered species, but the IUCN lists it as “near threatened.”

It would be a shame if this animal’s status ever became worse.

We already lost one fake wolf from South America.

It would be a shame to lose the other one– the real red wolf.



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“Red fox on stilts”

The perfect name for the maned wolf!

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Teddy Roosevelt hunted jaguars in Brazil with dogs that were said to be part maned wolf.

From TR’s Through the Brazilian Wilderness (1914):

The dogs were a wild-looking set. Some were of distinctly wolfish appearance. These, we were assured, were descended in part from the big red wolf [maned wolf] of the neighborhood, a tall, lank animal, with much smaller teeth than a big northern wolf. The domestic dog is undoubtedly descended from at least a dozen different species of wild dogs, wolves, and jackals, some of them probably belonging to what we style different genera. The degree of fecundity or lack of fecundity between different species varies in extraordinary and inexplicable fashion in different families of mammals. In the horse family, for instance, the species are not fertile inter se; whereas among the oxen, species seemingly at least as widely separated as the horse, ass, and zebra—species such as the domestic ox, bison, yak, and gaur—breed freely together and their offspring are fertile; the lion and tiger also breed together, and produce offspring which will breed with either parent stock; and tame dogs in different quarters of the world, although all of them fertile inter se, are in many cases obviously blood kin to the neighboring wild, wolf-like or jackal-like creatures which are specifically, and possibly even generically, distinct from one another. The big red wolf of the South American plains is not closely related to the northern wolves; and it was to me unexpected to find it interbreeding with ordinary domestic dogs (pg. 74).

Roosevelt was wrong about the origins of the domestic dog.  We know that domestic dogs are just a form of wolf (Canis lupus). However, at the time, virtually everyone believed that various types of jackal, even the ones that have never been known to inbreed with dogs, were in the mix. African wild dog  (Lycaon pictus) and dholes (Cuon alpinus) have also been claimed as possible ancestors of the domestic dog, but no one has produced a hybrid from a domestic dog and these animals. We now know that dogs, including New Guinea singing dogs and dingoes, fit within the wolf species and can interbreed with coyotes, golden jackals, and Ethiopian wolves.

There have always been persistent rumors of other wild dogs interbreeding with dogs. The most common unsubstantiated dog/wild dog hybrid is a hybrid between a black-backed jackal or a side-striped jackal, which both belong to the genus Canis, but no confirmed hybrids between these species and domestic dogs have ever been documented. However, in the nineteenth century, there were many claims that red foxes had crossed with dogs. Such crosses, if they ever existed, would have likely been sterile, because foxes and dogs have vastly different chromosome numbers.

Both of hybrids between dogs and  the endemic African jackals of foxes are probably urban legends.

However, I have also come across supposed crosses between domestic dogs crab-eating foxes, which are a South American wild dog species. South American wild dogs, some of which are called foxes, are actually much more closely related to the true dogs in the genus Canis than they are to the red fox and its closest relatives.

I don’t know if the existence of these animals has ever been verified, so I am very skeptical.

But there is another possibility:  the Brazilians could have had a domesticated maned wolf that could be used as a hunting dog.

The natives of Tierra del Fuego had domesticated the culpeo, another South American wild dog that is sometimes called a fox or zorro, and may have used them to hunt otters.

However, if look at the context of Roosevelt’s description of the dogs, they were being used to hunt jaguars.

I know of no single account of a maned wolf approaching a jaguar for any reason. Maned wolves are not really equipped to hunt large game and are not competitors with the jaguar in any way. Further, they don’t hunt in packs, which they would have had to do if they were going to cause a jaguar any trouble. Domestic dogs are better equipped to chase jaguars because they do have a pack hunting heritage that they receive from the wolf, but it is unlikely that any supposed domesticated maned wolf would be a pack hunter that would readily pursue a jaguar.

My guess is that Roosevelt saw some particularly rangy domestic dogs with reddish-colored fur that the Brazilian claimed came from the maned wolf. They likely never saw the dog mate with the maned wolf. It may have been nothing more than a claim that was used to sell the puppies.

I would love for this story to be true, but in light of what is already known about hybridization within the dog family, I am very skeptical.


It might be useful to have a look at the phylogenetic tree of the dog family that was drawn after the domestic dog’s genome was sequenced.



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Maned wolf pups

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Maned wolf puppy

No one got the correct answer to my “Identify the species” query.

I did say it was a puppy.

But it’s not a domestic dog puppy.

It’s a maned wolf pup.

It will grow up to look like this (minus the pigeon in its mouth):

Maned wolves are not true wolves, but instead, they are part of the wonderfully unique group of canids native to South America. It is the closest relative of the extinct Falkland Islands wolf or warrah.


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