FROM ZOO TO YOU Welcoming Mateo the maned wolf to the zoo

By Alyssa Mechler

Have you ever visited the zoo and wondered what that big, tall, foxlike critter is over by the alpaca? That would be a maned wolf and they are native to central South America. While the maned wolf is a member of the Canidae family, they don’t resemble the wolves you might be thinking of. 

They are often described as red foxes on stilts due to their incredibly long legs in proportion to their body. They share similar characteristics with a fox, such as their large ears, red coat, and white-tipped tail. The maned wolf is covered in a long red-brown coat with black fur covering its legs, feet, and nose. Despite their name, they aren’t much like a wolf at all.

The maned wolf is the largest canid of South America and most closely related to the forest fox and the bush dog, canids found in South America. Maned wolves are incredibly unique animals. Unlike the wolves of North America, maned wolves are omnivores, eating mainly fruits and small to medium-sized animals (rodents and sometimes small birds). They stand on long legs to help them move gracefully through the tall, shrubby grasslands of South America. Maned wolves use strong-smelling urine and feces to mark their territory; many visitors say it smells like skunk. In the wild, maned wolves live in monogamous pairs and share a territory.

The Lee Richardson Zoo recently welcomed a new male, Mateo. He came to the zoo from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington D.C. Mateo will be join female, Lelah, in line with the Species Survival Program (SSP) recommendations. As Mateo and Lelah get acquainted, he will be held in the barn and outdoor holding area, where they can see and sniff each other. You may only be able to see them from a distance. As they become more comfortable with each other, he will be out in the yard with Lelah.

The next time you visit the zoo, just follow your nose to the maned wolves and see if you can catch some of their unique characteristics. Give Mateo a warm welcome and see if you can catch the two hunting and pouncing in the yard or snoozing in the sun.

Alyssa Mechler is the conservation awareness manager at Lee Richardson Zoo.