The African Wild Dog
Photo kindly provided by Kai Keller
The African wild dog, also called the hunting dog, is a vanishing species in East Africa. Field studies have shown that the wild dog is a highly intelligent and social animal. Like most predators, it plays an important role in eliminating sick and weak animals, thereby helping maintain a natural balance and ultimately improving prey species. The stereotype of the wild dog as a cruel butcher is slowly being replaced by a less harsh image.
The African wild dog has a colorful, patchy coat, 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.
Wild dogs live mostly in arid zones and in the savanna. They also are found in woodland and montane habitats where their prey lives.
African wild dogs live in packs of six to 20. The aggression exhibited towards prey is completely nonexistent between members of the pack and there is little intimidation among the social hierarchy. Their large range of vocalizations includes a short bark of alarm, a rallying howl and a bell-like contact call that can be heard over long distances. Elaborate greeting rituals are accompanied by twittering and whining. The entire pack is involved in the welfare of the pups, which are born in thick brush or in a den.
The hunting members of the pack return to the den where they regurgitate meat for the nursing female and pups. Although litters are very large, very few pups survive. Sometimes the dens are flooded, or the pups die from exposure or disease. When pack numbers are reduced, hunting is not as efficient and adults may not bring back sufficient food for the pups. The entire pack is involved in the welfare of the pups; both males and females babysit the young and provide food for them.
Wild dogs prey on gazelles and other antelopes, warthogs, wildebeest calves, rats and birds. They have a peculiar, playful ceremony that initiates each hunt: they circulate among themselves, vocalizing and touching until they get excited. When prey is targeted, some of the dogs run close to the animal, while others follow behind, taking over when the leaders tire. They can run long distances at speeds up to 35 miles per hour. Of the large carnivores, wild dogs are probably the most efficient hunters—targeted prey rarely escapes.
Predators and Threats
Throughout Africa, wild dogs have been shot and poisoned by farmers, hunters and, at one time, by rangers. Even though protected in parks and reserves, wild dog populations are dangerously low. AWF works with community scouts and supports research that examines the factors that threaten wild dogs and explores ways to reduce these threats.
Did You Know?
No two wild dogs are marked exactly the same, making it easy to identify different individuals. Why such a pattern should develop, and how it serves the hunting dog, has long intrigued scientists.
Wild dogs are usually on the move over a very large range, covering for example, some 900 square miles in the Serengeti. After a litter is born, however, they will limit their travelling and hunting to areas closer to the den.