Aguará Guazú: The Strangest Wolf in the World

by TerryMcNamee

The Aguará Guazú, or Maned Wolf, is the only animal in the world that has the body and legs of an antelope, the head of a red fox, the paws of a wolf and the smell of a skunk.

By Terry McNamee © 2013

This strange creature, also called a Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), is one of the world’s most unusual canines and is found only in remote areas of eastern South America. They live in marshlands, grasslands and forested areas of Paraguay, eastern Bolivia, central and southeastern Brazil and northern Argentina’s Pampas. One of several common local names for this creature is aguará guazú, meaning "big fox". Maned Wolves are neither fox (Vulpes vulpes) nor wolf (Canis lupus), but something in between. The Maned Wolf is unique, being the only member of the genus Chrysocyon. According to Antonia Gorog of the University of Michigan, the aguará guazú may be the only survivor of the late Pleistocene extinction of the large canids of South America, making this a very ancient creature.

Maned wolf, or aguará guazú (Chrysocyon brachyurus), showing the pacing gait.
Maned wolf, or aguará guazú (Chrysocyon brachyurus), showing the pacing gait.
Wikimedia Commons

The Maned Wolf Is Tallest Wild Canine

This “wolf” is the tallest wild canine, standing at least 36 inches tall at the shoulder, which is as tall as the world’s tallest domestic dog, the Irish Wolfhound. But most of its height is in its slender black legs, so the Maned Wolf only weighs about 50 to 55 pounds, less than half the weight of a grey wolf. Unlike other canines, Maned Wolves move in a lateral gait, or pace, moving both legs on one side of the body at the same time, instead of trotting.

Lying down, it could be mistaken for a very big red fox, since its colouring is very similar. Like a red fox, it is a reddish orange colour with white on its throat and tailtip. Its ears are very big, as much as seven inches tall. The black mane down its neck resembles that of a young cheetah. The muzzle is black.

Maned wolves are monogamous and mate for life, but generally live solitary lives, coming together only during the breeding season, which in the Southern Hemisphere is between August and October. Females are pregnant for about 65 days, about the same as for domestic dogs, and each litter contains, on average, between one and five pups. The average weight is around twelve ounces, relatively small for a canine of this size. The puppies have their eyes and ears open at around nine or ten days, again the same as for domestic dogs. Puppies are born blackish-grey and gradually change over to their adult colouring by about two months of age, again similar to red foxes and to some breeds of dogs such as the Finnish Spitz.

Being neither wolf nor fox, the sound they make is different from either of these. In fact, this single bark resembles the bark of a very big dog more than any sound made by other wild canines.

The maned wolf is generally nocturnal, resting during the day. Each mated pair needs a home territory of close to thirty square miles.

Maned wolf at the Cologne Zoo in Germany. The mane can be seen clearly.
Maned wolf at the Cologne Zoo in Germany. The mane can be seen clearly.
Wikimedia Commons

Threats to the Maned Wolf's Survival

Despite being only distantly related to domestic dogs, Maned Wolves share a health problem with some Dalmatians: they get kidney stones.

“Maned Wolves suffer from a serious and possibly hereditary metabolic flaw, which may result in a syndrome called cystinuria, a failure of the renal system to absorb the amino acid cystine,” according to Louise Emmons, a research associate at the National Museum of Natural History. “Cystine is excreted in the wolves' urine, and may cause crystals to form in their kidneys and bladder, which can cause death from kidney failure or blockages in the urinary tract.”

That is not the only thing that threatens this rare animal.

Maned wolves live on insects, small mammals and reptiles, birds, birds' eggs and vegetation. About half its diet consists of fruit. They use their large ears to detect the moment of prey such as mice, guinea pigs and small lizards, which they catch by pouncing on them in the same manner as a fox. Like foxes, they have a strong odor. They do not compete with people for food and, aside from the occasional chicken, newborn lamb or piglet, do not eat livestock, since their jaws and teeth are small.

Since their fur, which smells like a skunk's, has no commercial value, the main threat to their survival is habitat destruction from logging, slash-and-burn cultivation and draining marshlands to create more farmland. Sadly, it is also hunted for sport, even though the meat and pelt are of no value. The maned wolf, once found in many South American countries, is now completely gone from Uruguay and the southern part of Argentina. It is classed as Endangered in several countries.

It is thought there are as few as 1,500 maned wolves left in the wild.

New Book About Maned Wolves

Editors Adriana G. Consorte-McCrea and Eliana Ferraz Santos have put together an extensive volume about the maned wolf. Ecology and Conservation of the Maned Wolf: Multidisciplinary Perspectives is scheduled for publication in November of 2013. This is a pricey book that may be too much for the casual reader, but for people with a deep interest in wild canids, it will be an essential addition to one's library.

This book has gathered together everything known about the Aguará Guazú and includes all the latest research into all aspects of its habits, its interaction with the local people and conservation plans. It can be pre-ordered from Amazon.

Below are some additional books that provide information about this unusual canine.

The Biology and Conservation of Wild Canids

Wild canids are fascinating ancestors of the domestic dog. This definitive book on aspects of canid biology and the conservation of wolves, dogs, jackals and foxes covers topics...

View on Amazon

Wildlife Guide: Brazil (Globetrotter Wildlife Guides)

This exciting guide aims to inspire and help travellers to plan and enjoy tours in Brazil's finest wildlife reserves.In addition to offering advice on planning your trip and dis...

View on Amazon

Nature in Danger: Threatened Habitats and Species (Guinness Guide to Nature in Danger)

Humanity's well being and ultimate survival are inextricably bound up with the health of the natural world. We often take for granted that nature will continue to provide the ba...

View on Amazon

Updated: 05/13/2013, TerryMcNamee
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Ann on 05/13/2013

Very interesting. Didn't know that much about them. It's sad as with other wild animals people can't get along and leave alone such a unique creature!

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