KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Mammalia (Mammals)
ORDER: Carnivora (Carnivores)
FAMILY: Canidae (Dog family)
SUB-FAMILY: Caninae (Dog family)
GENUS: Lycaon (African wild dog)
SPECIES: Lycaon pictus (African wild dog)
African wild dogs are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, although the population is now very fragmented. African wild dogs are native to Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. They are possibly extinct in the DRC, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Togo and Uganda.
African wild dogs have a dog-like appearance, with a thin body, long legs and large, rounded ears. The face is dog-like and black. Their fur has black, yellow, red, brown and white areas, which are arranged in such a manner that they appear “painted” onto the animal. Males and females are roughly the same size.
These wild dogs prefer grasslands, savannahs and open woodlands. They are widely distributed across the African plains and are not found in jungle areas.
African wild dogs are carnivores (meat-eaters) and they will eat small antelope such as impala and bush duiker, as well as old, sick or injured larger animals such as wildebeest and zebra. They may also supplement their diet with birds and rodents. These dogs hunt in packs of about 6-20 animals and thus are able to bring down large prey.
These dogs are very social animals and live in groups (called packs) of up to 40 members. Each pack will have a dominant breeding pair with separate dominance hierarchies for males and females. Within their packs, dogs of the same sex are closely related to each other but not to individuals of the opposite sex. When feeding, they lack aggression towards each other and share the kill; even with members who may not have been involved in the actual hunt. Wild dogs are not territorial but are nomadic within huge home ranges of up to 2000 square km.
African wild dogs are monogamous (will only have one partner at a time), with only the dominant pair in the pack typically allowed to breed. Occasionally a subordinate female is allowed to mate and rear young.
After a gestation period of about 60-80 days an average of 10 pups are born. The entire pack shares responsibility for protecting the litter, with both males and females babysitting the young. They will be weaned at about 35-90 days, and pups that are old enough to eat solid food are given priority at a kill, even over the dominant pair. Once the pups reach the age of 8–10 weeks, the pack abandons the den, and the young follow the adults during hunts. Sexual maturity is reached at about 1-1.5 years old. Untypically, it’s the females that leave the natal pack and join or start other packs, while males will stay in their natal pack. They can live up to 14 years.
In the wild, lions are the dogs’ main predator.
There’s only an estimated 6000 African wild dogs left in the wild. The biggest threat to the African wild dog is habitat fragmentation, which increases their contact with people and domestic animals. Since the dogs have very big home ranges, they easily wander into human settlements, where they can pick up diseases which can quickly wipe out an entire pack, or be killed to due to catching domestic animals or be persecuted by game farmers for killing wild game.
Did you know?
- The African wild dog’s Latin name means “painted wolf”
- When a dog becomes ill, injured or elderly restricting or even incapacitating their effectiveness as a hunter, the rest of the pack cares for and feeds them
- People have attempted to tame African wild dogs but have never been successful
- Their hunts are successful 80% of the time