Do you know your wild dog?
Lycaon pictus. You know they’re part of a pack, that you should never get in between them during a chase and that they resemble your own cherished hound at home. But just how much do you know about the African wild dog?
Here are a few interesting facts about these endangered animals – their appearance, their years as pups and mums, the hunt and why conservation of their species is so critical.
WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE?
- African wild dogs weigh between 19 and 34 kilograms (41 and 66 pounds). Females are generally larger than males and may reach 34 kilograms (75 pounds), while males reach an average of 24 kilograms (53 pounds).
- They have large rounded ears and long legs, a bushy tail and shaggy coats coloured black, yellow and white. The colour pattern of each dog is distinct and can be used for individual identification.
- Wild dogs are the only canid species lacking dew claws on its front legs.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
- Wild dogs are seasonal, co-operative breeders and whelping generally occur from April to September, after a gestation period of 71 to 73 days. In southern Africa, pups are born mostly from late May to early June.
- Pups are born in a den, where they remain for the first three months of life. The mother is confined to the den while nursing and relies on other pack members to feed her during that time. The mother delivers food to the pups by regurgitation.
- Wild dog females cannot successfully rear pups without assistance and in most cases, the pack, rather than the individual, is considered the basic unit within the population.
- Other pack members will help to care for the pups – helping to ‘babysit’ the pups and chase predators away from the den. They also take care of the old and sick.
- In most packs, only the dominant alpha female breeds and mates with an unrelated male. Reproductive depression of the other females in a pack is the consequence of limited resources, behavioural patterns and endocrine mechanisms.
- Females can give birth every 11 months. The litter size varies but, on average, there are 10 to 11 pups per litter, although there may be 20 or more.
- Pups are born blind and they leave the den for the first time when 3 to 4 weeks old. Weaning, a gradual process, begins when the pups are 14 days old.
- Pup are sexually mature after 23 months and start leaving the pack when they are 1,5 years old.
- Wild dogs typically hunt in groups – a result of natural selection for improved efficiency of prey capture, for the ability to kill increased prey size and for a successful defence.
- They hunt primarily by sight and by daylight, either in the early morning or in the early evening.
- Antelopes (from 15 to about 150 kg / 33 to 330 pounds) are their major source of prey.
- The pack often approaches herds of prey within several hundred metres. A regular group leader selects and runs down the prey – often overtaking even the fastest of the game after 3 to 4 km (1,9 to 2,5 miles) and within 30 minutes after commencing the chase.
- During the chase, while others lag behind, one or two dogs run at a distance of 100 m (109 yards) or more behind the leader and are positioned to intercept the prey if it circles or dodges.
- As soon as the prey is caught, the pack pulls it apart. Juveniles are allowed to feed first. Not much remains of a carcass after the pack has fed.
- They select greater kudus throughout the year and though they show little selection between the other prey species they prefer impalas, bushbuck or Thomson’s gazelles, depending on the region and the presence of the specific species.
HAVE YOU SEEN A WILD DOG?
- The African wild dog is one of the most threatened carnivores in the world following its dramatic population decline over the past 30 years. On the African continent, where it occurs exclusively, it is the second most endangered carnivore (after the Ethiopian wolf), and the most endangered in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Habitat fragmentation, persecution, and prey loss are the main reasons for their dramatic decline across most of Africa – as well as road accidents, snaring and diseases contracted from domestic dogs.
- Wild dogs’ social dynamics have also played a role. Because of their need for helpers in hunting and motherhood, for instance, declining numbers of pack members have a negative impact on the ability of packs to survive under adverse conditions.
- Small populations of wild dogs remain in several countries in southern and eastern Africa – including in the Kruger National Park (South Africa), the Zambezi and Hwange National Parks (Zimbabwe), the Okavango region (Botswana) and the Selous National Park (Tanzania).
- With adequate protection and management, there is no reason why these populations should not survive.
CONSERVE OUR DOGS
Current conservation efforts in South Africa aim to develop a wild dog meta-population through the re-introduction of wild dogs into fenced reserves. Significant scope for increased distribution expansion exists in the Limpopo and North West Provinces.
However, efforts aimed at changing extremely negative landowner attitudes towards wild dogs are necessary to improve the conservation status of the species outside protected areas. Persecution remains the most serious threat to wild dog populations as they are perceived as a pest that kills livestock or competes with people for wild ungulates in hunting areas. Their reputation as voracious stock-killers has not been justified and while livestock occasionally is taken, losses to farmers seem to be relatively small, particularly when wild prey is available.
Significant potential also exists for conserving naturally occurring wild dogs in situ on ranch land.
The highest priority for wild dog conservation is to maintain and promote the continuity of areas available to wildlife. Establishing cross-border parks and buffer zones, and encouraging game ranching on reserve borders will contribute to the survival of the species.
Within this context, HESC maintains a small group of wild dogs, primarily for educational purposes.
Discover more about the uniqueness of the African wild dog HERE and visit us in Hoedspruit to witness their beauty up close.