The African Wild Dog (also known as the Painted Dog and Cape Hunting Dog) is a medium-sized canine species found in sub-Saharan Africa. The African Wild Dog is most easily identified from domestic dogs and other wild dogs by its shiny spotted coat, with its Latin name, aptly meaning painted wolf.
The African wild dog is said to be the most sociable of all dogs, living in packs of around 30 individuals. Unfortunately, however, this highly intelligent and sociable animal is critically threatened in much of its natural habitat, mainly due to habitat loss and hunting by humans.
African Wild Dog Appearance
The most distinctive feature of the African Wild Dog is its beautiful spotted coat which makes this dog very easy to identify. The coat of the African wild dog is red, black, white, brown, and yellow and the random pattern of the colors is unique to each individual.
It is also believed to act as a type of camouflage, helping the African Wild Dog blend in with its surroundings. The African wild dog also has large ears, long snouts, and long legs, with four toes on each foot. This is one of the biggest differences between the African wild dog and other canine species, as they have five. They also have a large stomach and long large intestine which help them absorb moisture from food more effectively.
African Wild Dog Distribution and Habitat
African wild dogs are naturally found roaming the deserts, open plains, and arid savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, where the distribution of the African wild dog has declined rapidly. The African wild dog is believed to have once been found in nearly 40 different African countries, but that number is much lower today, between 10 and 25.
Now, most African wild dog populations are mainly confined to national parks in southern Africa, with the largest populations found in Botswana and Zimbabwe. Wild African dogs require large territories to support the pack and pack size has in fact decreased in number as their domestic ranges have decreased.
African Wild Dog Behaviour
African wild dogs are very social animals that congregate in packs of 10-30 individuals. There is a strict classification system within the herd, guided by the dominant breeding pair. They are the most sociable dogs in the world and do everything as a group, from foraging and sharing food, helping sick members, and helping to raise young ones.
African wild dogs communicate with each other through touch, movement, and sound. Pack members are incredibly close, gathering before a hunt to bite and lick each other, wagging their tails and making high pitched noises. African wild dogs lead a twilight lifestyle which means they are most active during sunrise and sunset.
African Wild Dog Reproduction
In African wild dog packs, there is usually only one breeding pair, which are the dominant male and female members. After a gestation period of around 70 days, the African wild dog gives birth to 2 to 20 puppies in a den, where it stays with its young for the first few weeks, relying on the other members of the pack for food.
African wild dog puppies leave the den between 2 and 3 months of age and are fed and cared for by the entire pack until they are old enough to become independent and usually leave to join or start another pack of wild dogs Africans. It is believed that the more the puppies are cared for, the better their chances of survival will be.
African Wild Dog Diet
The African wild dog is a carnivorous and opportunistic predator, hunting larger animals in the African lowlands in its large groups. African wild dogs feed mainly on large mammals such as wild boars and numerous antelope species, supplementing their diet with rodents, lizards, birds, and insects.
They are also known to hunt much larger herbivores that have become vulnerable due to disease or injury, such as wildebeest. Although African wild dog prey is usually much faster, the chase can last for miles, and it is this dog’s stamina and persistence that makes them so successful, along with their ability to maintain their speed. Hunting in packs also means that African wild dogs can easily corner their prey.
African Wild Dog Predators
Due to the relatively large size and dominant nature of the African Wild Dog and its pack, they have few natural predators in their native habitats. Lions and hyenas are sometimes known to prey on African wild dogs that have been separated from the rest of the group.
One of the biggest threats to the African wild dog is breeders who hunt and kill the African wild dog for fear of their livestock being exploited. A drastic decline in their natural habitats has also pushed the remaining populations of African wild dogs into small pockets of their native regions, and they are now more frequently found within national parks.
African Wild Dog Interesting Facts
The long large intestine of the African wild dog means they have a very efficient system for absorbing as much moisture as possible from their food. This gives these dogs an edge in such arid climates, as they don’t need to find such a regular water supply.
Therefore, African wild dogs can go for long periods of time without the need to drink. Unlike many other carnivores, African wild dogs kill their prey by starting to bite while still alive. While this may sound cruel, the animal dies faster and less painfully than if it had been killed in the generally preferred way.
African Wild Dog Relationship with Humans
Populations of African wild dogs have declined rapidly in southern African countries, mainly due to the loss of much of their natural habitat and the fact that they are commonly hunted by farmers. The slightly wild nature of the African wild dog has led to a great superstition in this regard, and the locals have nearly wiped out entire populations in some areas.
The loss of their historical ranges, generally due to the growth of human settlements, has also caused a drastic decline in populations in much of their environment. Although most of Africa’s wild dog population today is confined to national parks, they tend to require much larger territories and come into conflict with humans when they leave these protected areas.
African Wild Dog Conservation Status
Today, the African wild dog is listed as an endangered species, as the African wild dog population has been declining rapidly, especially in recent years. Fewer than 5,000 people are believed to be roaming sub-Saharan Africa today and the number continues to decline. Hunting, habitat loss, and the fact that they are particularly vulnerable to the spread of disease by livestock are the main causes of the loss of African wild dogs on the continent.