Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Maned Wolf (Aguará Guazú) in Patagonia

maned wolf, aguara guazu
Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus ). From the Internet

In previous posts on the Falkland Island wolf, possible Patagonian wolves and the Water Tiger I mentioned the Maned Wolf or Aguará Guazú, whose image is shown above. Today I will give some more details on this stange canid, related of course to cryptozoology in Patagonia.

Current status of the Aguará Guazú

The animal which is South America's largest Canid, was once widely distributed in the continent from the north of Brazil to Uruguay, including Paraguay, Bolivia and Central Argentina. Nowadays it is restricted to central and eastern Brazil, north of Argentina, central Paraguay, and is only found in very small numbers in Bolivia and Uruguay.

It is about 1 meter (3.3 ft.) tall and 1,30 m long (4.2 ft.). It has a reddish coat and a fox-like appearance (like a long-legged red fox). These long legs may have originated as the animal adapted to an environment with tall grasses, as can be found in the wetlands of Southern South America.

It has a sharp dark snout and a mane (hence its name) of black hairs from its head to its shoulders. The mane stands upright when the animal is alarmed. Its red color is interrupted by white areas on the tip of its tail, the inside of its upright ears and its throat. It is omnivorous and eats fruits as well as small animals.

Endangered, it is protected in Argentina and Brazil (where road kills are the most common cause of death). Its environment being encroached by man, is also a threat to its long term survival. Some 24,000 animals survive in the wild and it is listed on CITES "Red List" as Near Threatened.

Did they live in Patagonia?

There has been some debate about this and a lot of inconclusive evidence. Lets go over it:

1. Musters (1870). This English explorer rode from Punta Arenas by the Strait of Magellan all the way to Carmen de Patagones, on the Negro River, with a group of Tehuelche natives (his journal is a very interesting account of their way of life). I marked his itinerary with a blue line and with the number "1" in the map below.

Musters had been told about the "water tiger" and trying to find some animal that could account for it, after discarding the puma and the jaguar, he also discarded the aguará guazú, because, having seen a hide of one of them in Carmen de Patagones at the end of his journey, he was told by the natives that its habitat did not extend into Patagonia.[5]

2. De la Cruz (1806). Who crossed Patagonia in from Concepción in Chile, to Buenos Aires in Argentina. His route is shown in the map "2" with a blue line. He recorded that in Neuquén the native Peguenches [sic] told him that “there are other animals they call oop, whose body is shaped like a dog, which it resembles with its head, snout, legs and tail and with the ears of a cow; they state that the wool that covers it is like that of a sheep, a span or more in length, very soft and of a bright yellow color”.[6] It was named after its high-pitched yell.

maned wolf distribution
Map showing current and past distribution of the Maned Wolf in Argentina. Adapted from [4]

As the photograph above shows, "oop" and maned wolf are both dog-like. However its ears are not cow like (click to see cow ears image). Its mane is long and it has a dense fur, but these are not "a span or more" in length (9 in. or 22 cm).

3. The Natives. Apparently the “Northern Tehuelche” had a specific word to name the aguará guazú. This word was “huica. [1]

I found a reference that states that the “Araucano” (apparently Mapuche or Araucanized Tehuelches - Puelches) called it “guequen” [2].

However, Ernest Moesbach who included the word in his dictionary, does not indicate that it was the name of the maned wolf, he placed it under the following entry:

Guaquén (Huaquén) Guaqui: huaquen
huaqueñ: meter mucha gritería, haber ruido continuo; ladrar del zorro.

Which, translated from Spanish, means: "shout a lot, a continuous noise; the bark of a fox".


Moesbach's dictionary seems to imply that the "quequen" was not a maned wolf, but a variety of fox.

There is strong evidence of the animal having lived close to Patagonia's northern reaches in some wetlands (now dissecated) in Mendoza, La Pampa and San Luis provinces along the now intermitent (due to water usage upstream for irrigation) Chadileuvú - Salado - Curacó river system. Also it had been reported in Buenos Aires province in the XVIIIth century. But there is no fossil or physical evidence that the animal ever lived in Patagonia or in Chile.

Though there is a "Northern Tehuelche" word for it, there is no equivalente Aonikenk word, meaning it was not found south of Río Negro. Furthermore, these "Northern Tehuelche" had expanded outside of Patagonia into the Pampas where, as mentioned above, there were aguaras. The Mapuche word as used in Argentina may have also come from this source as there was a great cultural flow between Tehuelche and Mapuche in this region the former adopting the Mapuche language and the latter embracing many Tehuelche beliefs.

There was probably some other canids in the area, the above mentioned "Andean Wolf" or perhaps some distant relative of the "Falkland Islands Wolf - Fox", but in my opinion, there were no Maned Wolves in Patagonia.


[1] Friedrich Hunziker, Félix Faustino Outes, (1928). Vocabulario y franseario genakenn (puelche). Coni. pp. 280.
[2] José M. Suárez García, (1940) Historia del partido de Lobería. Talleres Graf. San Pablo. vol 1.
[3] Ernesto Wilhelm de Moesbach, (1944). Voz de Arauco: explicación de los nombres indígenas de Chile. pp. 98
[4] Sistema de Información sobre Biodiversidad
[5] Musters, G., (2007). Vida entre los Patagones: un año de excursiones desde el estrecho de Magallanes hasta el río Negro: 1869-1870. B. Aires: Continente-Pax. pp. 104 and ff.
[6] De la Cruz, L. (1835). Descripción de la naturaleza de los terrenos que se comprenden en los Andes, poseídos por los peguenche... B. Aires: Imprenta del Estado. pp. 25-26.

Further reading:

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

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