The African Wild Dog, also called “colorful wolf”, looks like a colorful dog. Its black fur is patterned all over with large spots.
It is a beautiful, but also very dangerous hunter in the African Savanna and one of the world’s most endangered animal.
The African Wild Dog belongs to the family of Lycaon pictus, the most significant wild canine to roam the African continent. Due to their speckled coat, they also go by the names of the “painted dog” or the “cape hunting dog.” It is easy to forget that they are, in fact, vicious predators when they look so much like any other cute dog we’d take to the park.
Their coat consists of rough bristle-like hairs, which come in a combination of black, yellow, white, and yellow markings. Each dog has a personalized jacket. They can distinguish each other utilizing their spots from a distance as long as 300 ft.
As they age, their coat recedes, leaving senior African Wild Dogs almost naked. Moreover, they have a white-tipped tail, which allows them to keep track of each other during a hunt, and large rounded ears. Another distinctive feature of the African Wild Dog is the absence of dewclaws, the fifth claw that does not touch the ground, typically seen in other dogs.
Males and females do not differ substantially in size. Both roughly measure 24 inches in height at the withers and weigh around 35-50 pounds.
Distribution and Habitat
As the name suggests, the African Wild Dog is native to Africa. Previously it occurred throughout the continent, but now their range is limited to the southern and south-eastern parts, most frequently in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania.
They don’t mind residing in woodlands, scrublands, and mountainous areas, but their preferred landscapes include the savannah and open plains, as this grants them unobstructed views when hunting their prey. A thriving pack can obtain a home range of up to 580 – 900 square miles.
Resulting of habitat fragmentation and human activity, their population has significantly decreased as of late. Although gauging the exact size of their population is complicated by their migratory movements, it is nonetheless classified as endangered.
An African Wild Dog’s diet is hypercarnivorous, meaning it first and foremost consists of meat. They target medium-sized animals, and their favorite snack is the Impala because of its prevalence, but they equally enjoy antelopes, warthogs, and rats. Giant packs of African Wild Dogs even topple animals as big as Wildebeests and Zebras.
Sorting out dinner is a group project; they hunt in packs of 6-20 individuals. Through teamwork, they drive their target to exhaustion (sometimes reaching speeds of 44 miles per hour) and are very rarely unsuccessful. They are hungry creatures and require more food than lions concerning their size, and prey can be depleted within minutes of catching it. However, if there are pups present, they are allowed to dine first. Unlike most social predators, they will regurgitate food for other members of their pack, including adults.
Mating and life cycle
Packs of African Wild Dogs are highly social and have strong family bonds. Both female and male dogs care for pups, and ill or injured members are never left behind. Typically a dominant monogamous pair leads the pack. Packs usually consist of 10-20 individuals, although this number sometimes stretches to 40.
The gestation period is roughly two months, after which females give birth to a litter of up to 20 pups – more significant than any other canid’s litter. Due to their large waste size, it is generally only the dominant female that reproduces. To control the pack’s size, the dominant female may even kill subordinate pups.
Pups remain in the den for three weeks and wean off their mother until they reach five weeks. By ten weeks old, they join the pack on hunts. Unusually, female dogs disperse to other groups when having reached sexual maturity.
Sadly, the mortality rate of pups is relatively high. Flooding of their dens, food shortage and disease are the most common causes of death. Those who do make it to adulthood live to be about 11 years.
Cause of Endangerment
As previously stated, their prevalence on the African continent has diminished significantly. Currently, the total population of African Wild Dogs is approximately 1,400 individuals. Consequently, they are classified as endangered, as per the IUCN.
Due to the threat they pose to livestock and agriculture; farmers frequently attack them. Expansion of human development similarly causes fragmentation of their habitat. Likewise, they often fall victim to diseases such as rabies or others.
Moreover, lions are prominent enemies of the African Wild Dog. Firstly, they compete for the same food sources – a competition that grows more intense due to habitat fragmentation and because lions hunt and kill them. However, these killings are purely to assert dominance as they will leave the dogs’ bodies for vultures to feast on them.
Successful conservation measures include the provision of “wildlife corridors,” which attempt to lessen the effects of their habitat fragmentation. Additionally, assisting farmers with building efficient closures for their cattle helps reduce human attacks on African Wild Dogs.
Fun Fact- That We Bet You Didn’t Know
Being highly social animals, they naturally have many different means of communicating with each other. Most frequent is their greeting call, a “hoo,” which is loud enough to reach across a distance of 4 km. Furthermore, they have an intricate greeting ritual they perform before the start of a hunt – this includes sniffing, licking, and wagging their tails.
Attesting to their complex social structures, they “vote” through a sneezing sound about whether they should hunt at a given time. If a subordinate dog initiates a hunt, several ten sneezes will tip the scale in favor of the search. On the other hand, if a dominant member of the pack creates a hunt, three sneezes will suffice.