Hungry like the maned wolf pup: Clips give rare glimpse of elusive canine

  • New camera-trap clips show three maned wolf pups nursing and eating regurgitated food from their mother.
  • This is the first time this behavior has been observed and documented in wild maned wolves, experts say.
  • Wild maned wolves have recently recolonized Iberá National Park in Argentina, thanks to conservation efforts.

A camera trap in Argentina’s Iberá National Park has revealed rare images of one of the world’s most elusive species: the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus). A series of clips shows three maned wolf cubs playing by themselves outside their den, then nursing and eating regurgitated food provided by their mother, whom researchers have named Preta.

Rogerio de Paula, a maned wolf expert at Brazil’s National Center for Research and Conservation of Carnivorous Mammals, said these nursing and feeding behaviors have never been observed in wild maned wolves, making these clips particularly noteworthy.

“That was the first report of this type of behavior in the wild,” De Paula told Mongabay in a video interview. “It was great to see.”

In 2020, researchers at Fundación Rewilding Argentina, an NGO that partners with Tompkins Conservation, began placing VHF radio collars onto maned wolves inside Iberá to learn more about their behavior. In August 2021, they discovered three wolf pups living in the grasslands of the park, so the team planted a camera trap outside their den, which is how they got the nursing and feeding images.

“It is not easy to find the species in the wild and register their behaviour … and even harder to find cubs since they are well hidden by their parents,” Talía Zamboni, a biologist at Fundación Rewilding Argentina, told Mongabay in an email. “Being able to monitor their daily life and habits add up to the knowledge of the species ecology and behaviour [which is] fundamental for their conservation.”

Based on 2005 estimates, there are about 660 maned wolves living in Argentina, and about 23,600 total across South America. However, De Paula says these numbers urgently need to be updated with a new population count to fully understand the conservation status of the species today.

The main threats to the maned wolf are habitat loss and fragmentation, getting hit by vehicles on busy roads, and the spread of disease from domestic animals. People will also deliberately kill maned wolves if they view them as a threat to their livestock.

According to Zamboni, maned wolves are “extinct” in eight provinces of Argentina, and only recently began to recolonize Iberá National Park. The increase of maned wolves in Iberá could be due to recent efforts to protect their habitat, hunting bans, and the ecological recovery of the region, she said.

“The species represents the ‘most wanted’ among wildlife observers who dream to see one individual of the species,” Zamboni said, adding that the local population of maned wolves would help make Iberá a desired destination for ecotourism.

Preta feeding her three pups. Image by Tompkins Conservation.

De Paula says the reestablishment of maned wolves in Iberá would further strengthen the local ecosystem by controlling prey species and spreading of seeds through their consumption of fruits.

“They’re bringing new life to the areas that they use,” De Paula said. “If you keep the population up, we have this [spread] of new plants, new seeds.”

Iberá National Park is a protected wetland region spanning 195,100 hectares (482,100 acres) in northeast Argentina. The park was established in 2018 with land donations from Kris Tompkins and the late Douglas Tompkins of Tompkins Conservation, and has since been the site of a large-scale rewilding project. Numerous animals have been released into the park, including jaguars (Panthera onca), red-and-green macaws (Ara chloropterus), giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), and Pampas deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus).

The rewilding of Iberá is part of a larger effort to protect large swaths of Argentina and Chile through a network of national parks. Working in collaboration with public and private partners, Tompkins Conservation has helped establish 15 national parks and protected 5.9 million hectares (14.7 million acres).

Banner image caption: Maned wolf pups in Iberá Park. Image by Tompkins Conservation.

Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts.

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