Cute Maned Wolf Pups Born: Big Pic

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Back off Liam Neeson, these wolves are too cute to fight. This week, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va., posted photos of some new maned wolf pups, and they are "Awww"-inducing.

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The pups were born on Jan. 5, and as the first litter born at the Institute in two years, they will "play an important role in helping researchers maintain a viable, self-sustaining population," said their press announcement.

SCBI research biologist Nucharin Songsasen continues, "Every pup born here helps us understand more about the biology of this incredible species." According to their release, "Maned wolf pups have a 50 percent mortality rate in the first month, so keepers are monitoring them closely."

Maned wolves are native to central and southeastern Brazil, Paraguay, eastern Bolivia and northern Argentina. They're not yet on the endangered species list, however, they are considered "near threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as they need wide, uninterrupted spaces.

Currently, there are approximatly 20,000 left in the wild. Aside from habitat destruction, maned wolves are killed for their body parts, which some people believe to have magical properties," according to the website of the Smithsonian National Zoo.

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The pups' father, Nopal, is the 10th-most genetically valuable male in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Maned Wolf Species Survival Plan because of his genetic diversity.

The diversity of genetics is key for breeding. Since 1975, 72 maned wolf pups have been born at the institute in Front Royal, and most of these animals have been relocated to other institutions to spread the pups around.

Melissa Rodden, coordinator of the Maned Wolf Species Survival Plan, said, "To keep a high level of gene diversity, it is important that every genetically valuable individual reproduce. SCBI is leading the research on innovative tools that will help us ensure  that will happen."

Unfortunately, with human conflict being the largest issue facing these wolves, there needs to be a comprehensive outreach and educational campaign to stop the destruction of their environment. According to the press release, only 20 percent of natural maned wolf habitat remains, and only 5 percent of that habitat is protected.

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The National Zoo has been working to protect maned wolves for nearly 30 years and coordinates the collaborative, inter-zoo Maned Wolf Species Survival Plan, which includes breeding maned wolves, studying them in the wild, protecting their habitat and educating people about them.

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