African Wild Dog
The African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) has often received negative publicity due to its hunting behavior, but as with any species, they play a vital role in the ecosystem. Sadly, Wild Dogs are the most endangered large carnivores of South Africa with a current population in Africa of between 3000 and 5000 individuals. South Africa’s main viable Wild Dog population is located in the Kruger National Park. Let’s explore this fascinating highly family-oriented carnivore further.
African Wild Dogs are specialized predators, typically residing in packs of between 10-15 animals. They are easily identified by their large rounded ears, blotchy brown, black and white bodies, white-tipped tails, long legs, slender body and distinctive stripe extending from between the eyes to the back of the head. Approximately the same size as a German Shepherd dog their measurements are as follows: length – 105 to 150 cm; shoulder height – 65 to 80 cm and mass – 20 to 30 kg. Whilst the largest population resides in the Kruger National Park some wild dogs have been released into Madikwe, Pilanesberg and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi.
Wild Dogs are chiefly diurnal, that is, active during the day. They usually hunt in the mornings or late afternoons. During hunts they relay largely on sight and will thus avoid tall grass, woodland and forest. The entire pack of wild dogs takes part in hunting. The pack will gradually move closer to the chosen prey animal, speeding up as the animal moves away. These chases have been known to go on for several kilometers. With small prey the wild dogs are able to take them down straight away. However larger prey needs to be weakened first and this is done by tearing and biting the flesh. This may be what gives the wild dog a poor reputation, however, it is important to note that they will only kill to satisfy immediate needs. Wild dogs have quite a varied diet including antelope ranging from small steenbok right up to large buffalo, birds, hares and rodents. After making a kill they will gorge themselves on the meat. When they return home this mass of meat is regurgitated for young pups and the adults that remained behind to care for the pups. Wild dogs roam over large home ranges, not establishing any particular territory.
When it comes to reproduction it is typically just the alpha male and female wild dogs that mate. Whelping takes place between March and July when hunting is easiest. The gestation period is 69 – 73 culminating in the birth of 2 to 10 pups.
Why is this magnificent species of the African plains facing extinction? There are several threats to wild dogs including conflict with humans, habitat fragmentation and infectious disease. Due to their bad reputation they have been the target of poisonings and shootings. Many are faced with the danger of roads that cross through their homelands and may get struck by vehicles. As humans take up more land, wild dogs come into closer contact with domestic animals and humans and are adversely affected by diseases they carry. Many projects are in place by conservation organizations to ensure the continuation of wild dog populations in South Africa and Africa in general. You can assist by making donations to these organizations and by breaking misconceptions laid upon this important species.