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The Maned Wolf

Few people are familiar with the maned wolf, the tallest of all wild canids, and the largest canid in South America. Unlike other wolves that live in cooperative breeding packs, the maned wolf is a solitary animal. The species once thrived and ranged throughout much of South America.

But maned wolves are now extinct in Uruguay, and remaining wild populations are increasingly threatened by habitat loss to agriculture. Through a coordinated Species Survival Plan, North American zoos are developing a hedge population of maned wolves.

Today there are fewer than 90 maned wolves living in North America, with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal holding the largest population.

Helping Maned Wolves Breed in Captivity

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, in collaboration with zoos across the United States, is researching how to apply modern assisted reproductive technologies to maned wolves in captive breeding programs. This project will help scientists gain a better understanding of why maned wolves breed poorly in zoos. Ultimately, these techniques will advance ex situ conservation of maned wolves. The following studies are currently underway in an effort to achieve these goals.

Artificial Insemination and Freezing Semen

Artificial insemination (AI) can help maned wolves who have had trouble breeding naturally, whether it’s because two wolves are sexually or socially incompatible, due to space restrictions, or in situations where a wolf’s mate has died. It reduces stress on the animals by minimizing the transportation. Maned wolves mate for life and AI allows new genetic material to be introduced while sustaining the bonds between pairs.

When used in combination with techniques for successfully freezing and thawing sperm, this technique allows scientists to reintroduce and disseminate valuable genes into a population long after the death of the sperm donors. AI has been successful in other rare carnivores including the black-footed ferret and clouded leopard, but has not yet been successful in maned wolves. Our research group is developing methods to optimize techniques for freezing sperm in this species for AI.

Inducing Ovulation

Recent research suggests that maned wolves are induced ovulators, meaning females only ovulate when they’re near a male. Our preliminary data has supported this assumption by showing that even when the maned wolf females are given a drug used to induce ovulation in the grey wolf, ovulation did not occur in females who lived by themselves, away from males. In collaboration with AspenBio Pharma Inc., we are working to develop methods to induce ovulation in this species. Inducing ovulation is essential for artificial insemination, especially when genetically valuable females are housed alone.

A maned wolf at SCBI in Front Royal, Virginia.
A maned wolf at SCBI in Front Royal, Virginia.