I’m a very fortunate person, because I’ve actually had a close encounter with this week’s endangered species, the Maned Wolf. Maned wolves are beautiful creatures who live in the grassy areas of central south America (parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and possibly parts of Peru and Uruguay). These wolves (people often say look like “foxes on stilts”) are omnivores, hunting at night and eating a diet which includes fruits and berries as well as small animals like rodents, reptiles, and insects. Because of this diet, the wolves play an important part in their ecosystems, controlling animal populations lower on the food chain and acting as seed dispersers. One of their primary food sources is the lobeira berry -- this fact caused some difficulty when zookeepers were first trying to raise the wolves in captivity many decades ago. Zookeepers knew that the wolves were omnivores, but didn’t know about the importance of lobeira berries in their diet. Until they worked out this puzzle, the wolves often suffered from dietary problems in captivity.
As mentioned on the ARKive website, these solitary wolves live in home ranges of 25 to 50 square km and only come together during the breeding season. Females reach sexual maturity at one year and can give birth to litters of 1 to 5 pups. The primary threat to these wolves, as is the case with many other endangered species, is habitat loss. Scientists and conservation managers are working hard to protect these wolves from loss of their habitat, as well as negative contact with humans and road kills.
I just read about Rogerio Cunha de Paula, one of the leading biologists working to protect the species. He is working to protect the Serra da Canastra National Park in Brazil from logging, mining, and conversion of habitat from soil plantations (see the book Wildlife Heroes by Julie Scardina and Jeff Flocken for more info). Many other people are also working hard to protect the wolves, and that’s how I got my close encounter. The National Zoo has been involved in maned wolf conservation for over 30 years and is the coordinator of the Species Survival Plan for the maned wolf. As a volunteer with the zoo, I was an “interpreter” about maned wolves for the public. One of the keepers at the maned wolf exhibit, my friend Kim, took extra time with me to teach me how truly special these animals are – she shared her knowledge of the wolves and gave me an unforgettable look at these fascinating creatures! What a treat to see these animals close-up, to hear their specific vocalizations, and yes, even to smell their (very strong) scents during mating season. Based on these encounters, I can say that the world would be a poorer place without the beautiful maned wolf.