African wild dog

Lycaon pictus


Hyaena picta (Temminck, 1820), Mozambique. There is some genetic differentiation between dogs from East and South Africa, but there is also overlap between the types.


English: Cape hunting dog, painted wolf; French: Lycaon; German: Hyanenhund.


The largest canid in Africa, it weighs 39.7-79.4 lb (18-36 kg). It is 27.6 in (70 cm) at the shoulder. The wild dog has a distinctive spotted coat. Its short hair is divided into irregular yellow, black and white markings with each dog unique. The dark muzzle, large rounded ears and white tail tip are invariable.


Formerly distributed throughout all of sub-Saharan Africa outside the equatorial forest zone, the species has been extirpated from most of western Africa and southern Africa. The species still survives over much of eastern Africa and parts of the Sahel but the viability of populations outside its strongholds in Tanzania and Botswana is unknown.


The species is most common in savanna and lightly wooded country, but it has the ability to live in a wide range of habitats from desert to mountain forest.


The wild dog is the wolf of Africa but with a more extreme adaptation to pack living. Packs range from two to 30 with an average of six adults and a variable number of pups. Members of a pack spend 95% of their lives in sight or earshot of one another. Resting, which takes 60-85% of their lives, is often

done in close contact. Packs are composed of related individuals. Males are more likely then females to stay in the pack where they were born and usually outnumber females in the population.


Predominant prey is small to medium sized antelopes from 22.0-132.3 lb (10-60 kg). Thomson gazelles, Gazella thomsonii (44 lb; 20 kg), and young wildebeests (Connochaetes spp.) are the chief prey in the open areas of eastern Africa. Impala, Aepyceros melampus (110 lb; 50 kg), are the staple food over most of the wooded areas of eastern and southern Africa. The species will take from the size of a hare (4.4 lb; 2 kg) to a zebra (441 lb; 200 kg). Packs hunt mainly in the mornings and evenings. In wooded areas, packs fan out and flush prey. In open areas dogs may slow and lay their ears back as they approach prey. The dogs run after fleeing prey at up to 35 mph (56 kph) for 3.5 mi (5.6 km). However, most chases are much shorter. Sick and gravid prey are vulnerable. The lead dog in the chase attempts to grab the hind leg of the prey. Once the animal is on the ground, it is quickly eaten.


Polyganorous, though there is a pair bond between the alpha male and alpha female in each pack. They rest together and are the only dogs to mark using a cocked leg. The alpha female produces pups annually with some seasonality especially in southern Africa. Subordinate adult females sometimes breed, but are seldom successful unless the pups of the dominant female die. Females produce an average of ten pups in an underground den after a gestation of 70-72 days. All members of the pack raise the pups; they regurgitate food while the young are still close to the den and later relinquish kills to the pups when the latter are able to follow the pack. Pups are not efficient hunters until 14-18 months. Survival through the first year is very low but larger packs tend to be more successful.


African wild dogs still have a wide distribution, but their population density is often very low. The total world population probably does not exceed 7,000. They do not survive well in competition with lions and hyenas and are susceptible to several diseases probably transmitted by domestic dogs. However, they are able to survive on very low prey densities in arid habitats. They are listed as Endangered by IUCN but much is unknown about their population status.


Wild dogs appear very rarely in rock paintings or folk tales suggesting that the species has never been common or an important part of the cultural landscape. In this century they have suffered the same fate as the wolf and been exterminated as a killer both of livestock and innocent prey populations. This attitude is changing although a wild dog extermination officer was employed by Namibia into the 1970s and pastoral people in many areas will kill the species on sight. In the Western world, its status as the wolf of Africa is providing kudos and protection. ♦

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