African wild dogs.

The African Wild Dog 

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The African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) – also called the African painted dog and the African hunting dog has been listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List since 1990.

Conservation Status

Due to human interaction, Africa’s Painted Dog population has been reduced to 1% of what it was previously, making them the second most endangered carnivore in Africa. In the 1900s, more than 500,000 wild dogs roamed Africa across 39 countries but sadly today there are only about 6,600 adults (including 1,400 mature individuals) living in subpopulations that are all threatened by habitat fragmentation, human persecution, and outbreaks of disease.

Pack Life and Appearance of Wild Dogs

Wild Dogs live in packs of up to 30 dogs with the alpha female the top dog in the pack and like domestic dogs, painted dogs are intensely social and have strong family bonds. Their priority is to protect the pack and take care of one another’s pups. Like other canids, the African wild dog regurgitates food for its young, but also extends this action to adults, as a central part of the pack’s social life. The young are allowed to feed first on carcasses.

After giving birth, the mother stays close to the pups in the den, while the rest of the pack hunts. She keeps the pups away from the other adult until they are old enough to eat solid food at three to four weeks of age. The pups leave the den around the age of three weeks and are suckled outside. Around the age of five weeks, the pups are weaned, and other pack members then feed them on regurgitated meat. Around seven weeks, the pups begin to take on an adult appearance, with noticeable lengthening in the legs, muzzle, and ears and once the pups reach the age of eight to 10 weeks, they start following the adults during hunts. The youngest pack members are permitted to eat first on kills, a privilege which ends once they become yearlings.

Fully grown Wild Dogs have colourful, patchy coats; large bat-like ears; and a bushy tail with a white tip that may serve as a flag to keep the pack in contact while hunting. No two wild dogs are marked exactly the same, making it easy to identify individuals. Unlike domestic dogs, the wild dog paws lack dewclaws (the little claw higher up on the inside of the front legs, similar to a human’s thumb). 

Adult wild dogs have a lifespan of between 10 and 12 years

Hunting and Eating Habits

On average, Wild Dogs dogs catch their prey 80% of the time in a long, open chase simply by outrunning them. Painted dogs are carnivores and feed on a variety of animals including impala, lechwe, wildebeest, warthog, gazelle and small animals including dik-dik, hares and cane rats.

During hunts, dogs will communicate with each other using high-pitched yapping calls. Their most well-known call is the “hoo” call, which can be heard from many kilometres away

When hunting the dogs use their incredible vision to locate prey and are usually spotted in the morning or at dusk.

The Habitat of The African Wild Dog

The African wild dog is mostly found in savanna and other drier zones, generally avoiding forested areas. This preference is likely linked to the animal’s hunting habits, which require open areas that do not obstruct vision or impede pursuit.

African wild dogs once ranged across much of sub-Saharan Africa, except in the driest desert regions and lowland forests. Today they are extinct in the wilds of North and West Africa and the largest population now occurs in Southern Africa and southern East Africa; more specifically in countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. However, it is hard to track where they are and how many there are because of the loss of habitat

The African Wild Dog In Popular Culture

The African wild dog also plays a prominent role in the mythology of Southern Africa’s San people. The San of Botswana see the African wild dog as the ultimate hunter and traditionally believe that druids and traditional healers could transform themselves into wild dogs. Some San hunters will smear African wild dog bodily fluids on their feet before a hunt, believing that doing so will give them the animal’s boldness and agility.

The Ndebele have a story explaining why the African wild dog hunts in packs: in the beginning, when the first wild dog’s wife was sick, the other animals were concerned. An impala went to Hare, who was a medicine man. Hare gave Impala a calabash of medicine, warning him not to turn back on the way to Wild Dog’s den. Impala was startled by the scent of a leopard and turned back, spilling the medicine. A zebra then went to Hare, who gave him the same medicine along with the same advice. On the way, Zebra turned back when he saw a black mamba, thus breaking the gourd. A moment later, a terrible howling is heard: Wild Dog’s wife had died. Wild Dog went outside and saw Zebra standing over the broken gourd of medicine, so Wild Dog and his family chased Zebra and tore him to shreds. To this day, African wild dogs hunt zebras and impalas as revenge for their failure to deliver the medicine which could have saved Wild Dog’s wife. (Greaves, Nick (1989). When Hippo was Hairy and other tales from Africa. Bok Books. pp. 35–38)

Most wild dogs can only be viewed inside game reserves like Mabalingwe Nature Reserve, Kruger National Park and places of safety like De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Centre.

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