All South American dogs are derived from North American ancestors. Although North America, Eurasia, and Africa have a certain level of diversity among their canine species, none matches South America for the diversity of wild dog species. At one time, North America surely once had a great diversity of these animals, but they were all eventually pushed south across the Isthmus of Panama into a brave new world in which there were no placental predators. The dogs found a niche and diversified into many unique forms to fill all sorts of unique niches.
Maned wolves eat a lot of fruit. Indeed, there is a plant called the wolf apple that these animals find particularly tasty. Farley Mowat posited the controversial theory (and generally incorrect theory) that C. lupus lived largely on mice and small game. If only he had come across this animal. Here is a wild animal that has indeed suffered persecution because of its wolfish appearance, but its diet is made up of lots of fruit and small mammals.
As strange as the maned wolf is, it is but one of many unusual species of wild dog in South America.
My personal favorite is the web-footed short-eared dog, a creature about which we know very little.
It eats a lot of fish (at least for a wild dog), and it swims well.
And it looks like some sort of alien creature.
It is extremely rare in the wild, and very few specimens have been observed in captivity.
I like it because it is an enigma. We know it exists. We know it looks bizarre.
There are still things to find out.
As noted in an earlier post, the maned wolf is the closest relative of the warrah or Falkland Islands wolf, which is one of two members of the Order Carnivora to have gone extinct in historical times.
The other is the sea mink of the New England and Maritime coasts.
All other species in Carnivora that have gone extinct have done so in prehistory.
Of course, they may not be the only ones. Tigers are very likely to be extinct in the wild soon. The exact timing of this event varies from source to source, often to give a certain amount of urgency to their plight.
But tigers won’t go extinct. There are already more tigers in captivity in the United States than there are in all of Asia.
When animals bred in captivity for generations, however, the Darwinian forces that have acted to form them no longer apply.
In the end, wild predators become caricatures of their former selves, just as working dogs slowly lose their abilities after generations of being bred for appearance alone.
Yes. I know this post was all over the place.
Sometimes I need to do these.