Known for its abnormally long lanky legs, its reddish-orange coat, and its omnivorous diet, the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) is one of the more beautiful and bizarre predators of South America.
However its stronghold, the Brazilian Cerrado, is vanishing rapidly to industrialized agriculture and urban development. Now, a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science reveals the key role of buffer zones and unprotected areas in keeping the maned wolf from extinction in the Cerrado savannah, where only 2 percent of the ecosystem is under protection.
"The overwhelming majority of the species' habitat [...] lies in private areas with no formal or legal protection. Outside the protected areas, the maned wolf faces a myriad of impacts and hazards, including habitat transformation, agriculture expansion, city sprawl, and road proximity, among many others," the scientists write.
To better understand how the maned wolf is coping, the researchers studied the animal's scat between 2006-2008 in a protected area's buffer zone near the city of Belo Horizonte. In an area that is undergoing iron ore mining, unregulated tourism including off-road vehicles, and sprawling urban development, researchers were surprised to find "the rather elusive and shy maned wolf" still present.
"This result is very important because the maned wolf, like other species of large mammals inhabiting the Cerrado, might not be able to survive in the long term solely within nature reserves," the scientists write.
Over the two years of research, the scientists found 95 maned wolf scats. The droppings proved that while maned wolves remained present, their diet was less diverse as it was in nearby protected areas.
"[This] likely reflects the disturbed nature of the study area," the authors write. "On the other hand, [the presence of the wolf] suggests that the study area, although disturbed and unprotected, can still provide natural food resources for the maned wolf."
The researchers urge the establishment and better-management of buffer zones around protected areas in Brazil in order to conserve the maned wolf and other imperiled Cerrado species.
"Very few buffer zones have been implemented in Brazil, and the reality is that the immediate region surrounding the protected areas is not different at all from rural areas at large," the scientists write, adding that legal issues, political weakness, and poor management have undercut buffer zones in the country.
"If nothing changes in Brazil regarding the creation and management of buffer zones, their role in conservation is not only compromised, but also they can have negative impacts such as the introduction of domestic animals and their associated diseases into protected areas," they add.
The maned wolf, which is the only animal in the genus Chrysocyon and the largest canid on the continent, is currently listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List.
CITATION: Lima Massara, R., de Oliveira Paschoal, A. M., Hirsch, A. and Garcia Chiarello, A. 2012. Diet and habitat use by maned wolf outside protected areas in eastern Brazil. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 5(3):284-300. (Source)