Who is an African Wild Dog?

They are not the ‘Big Five of Africa’ but African wild dogs are awe-inspiring sights of an African Safari. The musky colors, large bat-like ears, and bushy tail are a thing and, their camaraderie and social nature, a joy to watch.

Once found across the African continent, the wild dog is endangered. With around 5000 or so adults left in the wild, sightings are rare. Numbers have radically declined due to habitat loss, poaching, and threats from other predators.

photo-pack-of-african-wild-dogs
Photo by: DepositPhotos

Here are some insights into African Wild Dogs including what makes them a unique species. Read on – it’s fascinating!

Fast Facts: African Wild Dog

  • NAME: African wild dogs
  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Lycaon pictus
  • COMMON NAMES: Cape Hunting Dog, African Hunting Dog, Hunting Dog, Wild Dog, Hyena Dog, Painted Dog, Painted Hunting Dog, Painted Wolf, Ornate Wolf
  • CONSERVATION STATUS: Endangered
  • TYPE: Mammals
  • DIET: Carnivore
  • HABITAT: Sub-Saharan Africa
  • AVERAGE LIFE SPAN: About 11 years

What is an African Wild Dog?

The African wild dog is a fierce predator found in the grasslands to dense forests and deserts of sub-Saharan Africa. The Latin name, Lycaon pictus, means “painted wolf” – a direct reference to its mottled caramel and brown fur.

Since the wild dog belongs to the Lycaon genus, they are more closely related to wolves than dogs. Moreover, their phylogeny (evolutionary development) to behavior, makes them ‘wolves’. Funnily though, the painted wolves are often confused for hyenas.

Living in packs, African wild dogs are extremely social and known the help the pack when weak or ill. The same goes for hunting, with up to 20 working together to bring down their prey. African Wild Dogs are pure poetry in motion when on a hunt.

They are Africa’s most effective predators – 80% of their hunts end successfully, compared to, say lions at 30%. In a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers found that wild dogs sneeze to vote on hunting and group decisions.

Unlike most Canid species, wild dogs are not territorial animals. Occasional urine marking is seen in the alpha male and female, but it is not related to territorial marking.

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They are nomadic and found in the savannas, grasslands, and open woodlands across the African plains. Their habitat also includes semi-desert and mountainous regions of southern and eastern Africa.

Some of the places to see African Wild Dogs are: Laikipia, Kenya; Luangwa Valley, Zambia; Kruger National Park, South Africa; Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe; Okavango Delta, Botswana; Liuwa Plains, Zambia and Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa.

Can African Wild Dogs Mate (or breed) With Domestic Dogs?

Though members of the Canidae family, African Wild Dogs are neither dogs nor wolves. Instead, they are a distinct species on a unique evolutionary lineage. Wild dogs are not in the genus Canis, to which domestic dog belongs. Hence, they cannot mate or interbreed with domestic dogs or any other Canis member.

How do African Wild Dogs Differ From Other Canids?

  • Most Canids have dewclaw aka the fifth “thumb” toe on each paw whereas the African Wild Dog lacks it. It has only four toes.
  • Wild Dog has only 40 teeth, whereas other canids have 42. The premolars are specially adapted and different from other canid members, to enable the rapid shredding of carcasses, quite often when the prey is still alive.
  • Their unique pelage, coupled with their large Mickey Mouse-like ears is another distinctive feature.

How Long do African Wild Dogs Stay With Their Moms?

The expectant Alpha females give birth to pups after a gestation period of almost two and a half months. The pups (average litter size is 9) are usually born inside the den. The pups are exclusively nursed by the mother for the first three to four weeks of life.

By 4-5 weeks, they begin to eat solid food and begin to wean as early as 5 or 6 weeks. At 7 weeks, the pups begin to eat regurgitated food, and around 10-12 weeks they leave the den area and tag along with the pack on the hunt.

How do African Wild Dogs Reproduce?

African Wild Dogs are monogamous and are cooperative breeders. They reach sexual maturity at 12 to 18 months, though they usually do not mate until much later. Each Wild Dog pack has a dominant breeding pair called the Alpha pair with subordinate females to help nurse the pups. If any other female has pups, the Alpha female either accepts those into her litter or kills them.

Like other Canids, African Wild Dogs are mono-estrous. Interestingly, wild dogs are the only Canids not to endure the ‘copulatory tie’, in which the breeding pair gets locked together after mating in order to increase the chances of fertilization.

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They are generally seasonal breeders; the breeding season depends on the geographical location, for instance, in southern Africa, pups are born mostly around late May to early June. Gestation is approximately 70 to 73 days and pups are born in a den, usually made by warthogs or hyenas.

Litter sizes can vary considerably, from 2 to 20 pups. During the first 3-4 weeks of whelping, mothers are usually fed by regurgitation of food from pack members. At about 6 months, pups will be older enough to join their mother and pack in the hunt.

How Often Are Babies Born to African Wild Dogs?

The Alpha females can whelp every 11 to 12 months. However, it is noted that the whelping window is influenced by photoperiod (day length), temperature, body condition, and nutritional intake especially in the animals living in Northern regions of the continent. In fact, the time between births can be as short as 6 months if all of the previous pups die.

How Many Babies do African Wild Dogs Have?

The litter size varies but, on average, there are 10 -11 pups – and some litters may include as many as 22 pups. The largest litter of wild dog so far reported was in Botswana – consisting of 27 pups with three lactating mothers.

According to the researchers, litter size is the most influential driver of pack movements and home ranges. As a general rule, the larger the litter, the shorter the daily distances and smaller home ranges.

How Big are African Wild Dogs When They are Born?

When compared to other Canis members, the African Wild Dog is lean, tall, and bulkiest. The pups weigh about 8 to 10 ounces when they are born with a length of about 5-6 inches.

Fully grown wild dogs weigh between 44 to 55 pounds in East Africa and 54 to 72 pounds in southern Africa. Wild dogs stand about 25-30 inches tall, with a 28 – 45-inch body length and 11 – 18-inch tail. Female wild dogs are slightly smaller than the males

Do African Wild Dog Babies Have a Special Name?

Baby wild dogs are called pups. The term ‘cub’ is also acceptable. Typically, a litter has ten to twelve pups, and are often called littermates.

How Fast Can African Wild Dogs Run?

Built for endurance, African Wild Dogs are known for incredible stamina and can hit a top speed of 68-72 km/hour. With the streamline body and sturdy long legs, they hunt in packs with an average chase that goes on for about 2km. And when the prey collapses, they immediately begin feeding, even before the animal has died from blood loss.

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No wonder they are the formidable pack hunters in the African continent!

African Painted Wolf – Some Interesting Facts:

  • African Wild Dogs make squeaks, chirps, twittering, and bell-like sounds for communicating with pack members. They make a whooping call while locating pack members, particularly during hunts. They may also give short growl when encountered by other predators or humans. However, they do not bark or howl like wolves or domestic dogs.
  • African hunting dogs are non-territorial hence they lack exclusive ranges. Their home ranges can vary in size, usually anywhere between 200 to 2,000 square kilometers.
  • No two painted dogs have the same markings, which makes them easily identifiable and as unique as humans. Newborn pups lack the tan coloration but their white markings are clear and do not change as they grow up.
  • Back in the days, wild dogs were considered a pest and were shot in large numbers in countries like Zimbabwe. Over time, this mindset has changed and these animals are now valued and protected for their uniqueness and endangered status.
  • Painted dogs are carnivores. They primarily prey on mammals such as Warthogs and numerous antelope species (especially Nyala). They also eat rodents, lizards, birds, and insects.
  • Wild dogs do not bring backbones and chunks of meat for the pups in the den. Instead, they will regurgitate meat for the pups. This is to prevent the smell from building up from old bones, which may attract other predators (lion or hyenas) to the den area.

References:

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rspb.2017.0347

https://ibream.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/VANDERWEYDEL-THESIS2.pdf

https://orbi.uliege.be/bitstream/2268/130413/1/AWD.pdf

Sonia Madaan

Written by Sonia Madaan

Sonia Madaan is a writer and founding editor of science education blog EarthEclipse. Her passion for science education drove her to start EarthEclipse with the sole objective of finding and sharing fun and interesting science facts. She loves writing on topics related to space, environment, chemistry, biology, geology and geography. When she is not writing, she loves watching sci-fi movies on Netflix.

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