African Wild Dog facts - all about the African Wild Dog
Also known as Cape hunting or painted dogs, these highly intelligent hunters are becoming increasingly endangered.
The scientific name, Lycaon pictus, is an amalgamation of the Greek for wolf and the Latin for painted, reflecting the animal’s characteristics and irregular patterning in shades of red, brown, black and white. Each wild dog has its own unique markings and the multi-colours help it to blend into its dappled scrubland background. The white tips on their bushy tail helps pack members keep in touch in long grass.
The disproportionately big, erect ears act as sound collectors, helping a wild dog to keep in touch with the calls of its pack over vast distances. Pack members make a variety of sounds, from greeting rituals involving whining and jibbering to short alarm barks, prolonged howls and a bell-like contact call that travels for miles. The large surface area of the ears also helps the animal to lose heat.
Within a pack, only the highest ranking male and female will breed. The female will have a litter of between two and 20 pups, which the whole pack will take a share in feeding and protecting.
Pups are allowed to feed first at a kill and nursing mothers left behind at the den will be served regurgitated food.
Food passes through the oesophagus to a large stomach and extra-long intestine. This length helps the animal to absorb as much moisture as possible from the food. This means that wild dogs can survive for longer periods than other mammals without a regular water supply.
Feet and legs
Unlike domestic dogs, wild dogs have only four toes per foot, rather than five. Their long legs help the dogs to run at speeds of up to 35mph when the pack is in pursuit of a gazelle or wildebeest. Packs are well organised, with some individuals running alongside the prey and others following behind at a slower pace to take over as the leaders tire.
The wild dog’s short, wide muzzle is designed to help it grasp its prey and hang on to it. With the sheer weight of numbers of the pack they can, in this way, bring down the largest ungulate. Their large premolars are strong enough to break up large bones.
Where can you see them?
Packs of African wild dogs, dominated by a monogamous breeding pair, once roamed the savannahs and lightly wooded plains of the whole of subSaharan Africa.
However, because each pack requires an extensive home range for hunting, of 500 to 1,000 square miles (the area of Greater London) human encroachment on their habitat has had a big effect on populations.
These days wild dogs are thought to number fewer than 5,500 individuals. Packs of fewer than half a dozen wild dogs are not viable because they cannot hunt effectively. Potentially, therefore, the only populations that have a chance of survival now exist only in Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.