This Crazy Looking Canine Can’t Decide if It’s a Deer or a Fox

by Lauren Boisvert

In some cool outdoors news, we’ve recently learned about the maned wolf, native to South America and the largest canine in that region. It looks like a cross between a deer and a fox. Bottom line is, we’re fascinated. It’s not a deer or a fox, but it’s not a wolf either. It’s a member of the Canidae family, which makes it a canine. But, it’s also its own, distinct species. The maned wolf is the only animal in its genus, Chrysocyon.

The maned wolf has legs for days like a deer and a thick reddish coat like a fox. It usually stands 3 feet at the shoulder, and its habitats include northern Argentina, South and Central Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and southern Peru, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo. Because they’re canines and not true wolves, maned wolves bark and growl but don’t howl.

Urbanization in their habitats has put maned wolves on the Near Threatened list. Because of urbanization, the animals sometimes encounter cars, but some people also hunt them; mostly farmers trying to stop the animals from stealing chickens. Occasionally, the maned wolf’s body parts are used in traditional medicine in South America. Dogs are also a main adversary to the maned wolf; dogs spread diseases, but will also chase and attack them.

The World Land Trust in Paraguay and Bolivia protect the maned wolf, as well as laws passed in South America to stop the hunting of these animals. The law protects them in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Peru.

Protecting the Maned Wolf: Why It’s Important and How Some People Are Doing It

Rosana Nogueira de Moraes, a researcher from Brazil, has studied the maned wolf for over 15 years. In 2017, she launched a project that studied the animals based on their heart rate, called Rhythm of Life. In 2020, she wrote a piece for the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute, where she explained why the maned wolf is important. She also detailed her project and how it helps the animals.

First of all, the maned wolf is crucial to its environment because it’s basically nature’s pest control. The canine hunts small rodents, keeping the populations under control. They also disperse seeds of native plants through their feces, helping to keep native plants alive and thriving. Additionally, saving the maned wolf means saving the cerrado, a biome in Brazil that’s the most threatened in the world, according to Moraes.

With the heart rate project, Moraes hoped to learn how animals mask their emotions. The maned wolf is secretive and wily; it doesn’t actively display its emotions. So, by monitoring the heart rate of the maned wolves at the Conservation Biology Institute, Moraes and her team hoped to learn about the maned wolf’s “secret emotions” and responses to stimuli. The heart rate monitor specifically tracked the animals’ stress response.

“Having objective measurements of stress levels, and an understanding of where and how wolves move, could help us and land owners think about managing the land in ways that are more beneficial to wildlife,” Moraes wrote.