The African wild dog, also
known as the Cape hunting dog, is Africa's most
endangered carnivore. The term endangered means
that it is in danger of extinction and unlikely
to survive if the factors causing its decline in
numbers continue. Its endangered status is the
result of direct persecution by people.
The African wild dog is a
gregarious, pack-living animal with behaviour
similar to that of the well known wolf of the
northern hemisphere. The wild dog has a similar
role in nature to that of the wolf in that it
removes weak and unhealthy animals from the prey
population. Like the wolf, the wild dog has been
The African wild dog is a slim,
long-legged animal about the size of an Alsatian
dog. Its coat is a dappled combination of tan,
black and white - each individual having a unique
pattern. They differ from true dogs and wolves in
that they have only four, not five, toes on each
foot. Their large rounded ears are characteristic
and contribute to an extremely acute sense of
LIFE IN THE PACK
Wild dogs live in closely knit packs of up to 15
adults together with their young. Each pack has
one dominant female and one dominant male.
Usually only these two will mate and produce
offspring. All pack members cooperate in the
rearing of pups.
A high-pitched twittering,
associated with excitement, is often heard when
the pack is at a carcass or when they greet each
other on returning from a hunt or awakening after
a doze in the shade. A hooting call, called the
`whoo' call, allows the members of the pack to
find one another when the pack breaks up.
Often regarded as merciless and cruel killers,
wild dogs are in fact among the most efficient of
Africa's large predators. Their bad reputation is
unjustified and probably a result of the frequent
observation of their kills by people, as the dogs
hunt mostly by day. The more `noble' lion or
leopard hunts mainly after dark, and is thus
seldom seen in action. However, they usually take
far longer to finish off their quarry than do
Wild dogs hunt as a pack - they
quickly single out a weak or injured animal
within a herd, and the animal is then pursued
until it can run no further. Wild dogs are
tireless runners and chases may cover several
kilometres. Contrary to popular belief, the dogs
do not take turns to wear down prey. The mottled
hunters quickly kill and consume their prey -
impala, grey duiker, steenbok, and the young of
the larger antelopes are popular items on their
Wild dogs will take over the burrows of warthogs
and other creatures, and expand them for their
own needs. After very brief courtships, and
gestation periods of less than two and a half
months, the litters are born underground. In
southern Africa births occur in the middle of the
dry season, when the visibility for hunting is at
its best, and the chances of finding food for the
young greatest. Litters usually consist of
between 7 and 14 pups, with 21 having being
recorded in one litter. The young remain in their
underground burrow for the first two months of
life. They are guarded at all times by one or
more adults who remain behind whilst the pack is
out on the hunt. On returning, pups and guardians
alike are fed regurgitated meat by the hunters.
Should the mother of the pups die, they will be
adopted by other pack members. Despite the
attentiveness of the pack, there is a high
mortality amongst pups which may succumb to a
variety of diseases or predation.
Wild dogs favour savanna woodland with reasonable
rainfall. They occur patchily south of the
Sahara, where they are now rarely found outside
the borders of wildlife sanctuaries. In southern
Africa, wild dogs are confined to large game
reserves, such as the Kruger, Hwange, Gonarezhou, Moremi, and Chobe parks as well as the smaller
Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park. Free-roaming packs still
occur in the Bushmanland region of Namibia. Their
status in Mozambique is unknown.
African wild dogs are great roamers and
frequently come into contact with farmers and
their livestock. Since they prey on small stock
they are often shot or poisoned by farmers. Until
the 1960s even game rangers eliminated the dogs
wherever they could: they were blamed for
creating havoc amongst antelope herds which were
then regarded as the priorities of wildlife
Recent research on these
interesting creatures has revealed their
fascinating social habits and beneficial role in
weeding weak animals out of antelope populations.
Reserves now prize any packs living within their
boundaries, these being the only places where
wild dogs will survive. Packs often leave the
boundaries of protected areas and are then at
great risk from stock farmers. Although they
breed well in captivity and are thus available
for reintroduction, there are few suitable areas
to which wild dogs can be returned.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
* Be sure to report sightings of wild dogs in the
visitor's books of national parks and game
reserves. Game rangers would be particularly
interested to hear of any pups or dens that you
may have seen.
* People interested in donating
money to support African wild dog research should
contact the Endangered Wildlife Trust, address
DID YOU KNOW?
* Researchers are experimenting with the use of
satellite collars attached to wild dogs in the
Kruger National Park. A transmitter on the collar
sends a signal to a satellite which in turn
passes it on to a receiver in France.
Using a modem link-up, a computer in the Kruger
National Park can make contact with a computer in
France, and establish the position of the animal.
This allows researchers to track African wild
dogs as they roam over long distances.
* The African wild dog is a
protected species and it is illegal to kill it
without the necessary permit.
ENDANGERED WILDLIFE. J. Ledger.
Endangered Wildlife Trust, Johannesburg. 1990.
THE MAMMALS OF THE
SOUTHERN AFRICAN SUBREGION. J. Skinner
and R.H.N. Smithers. University of Pretoria,
PAINTED WOLVES - WILD
DOGS OF THE SERENGETI-MARA. J. Scott.
Hamish Hamilton, London. 1991.
A.E. Bowland, M.G.L. Mills and D. Lawson.
Endangered Wildlife Trust, Johannesburg, 1992.
LAND MAMMALS OF
SOUTHERN AFRICA: A FIELD GUIDE. R.H.N. Smithers. Southern Books, Johannesburg. 1986.
All books are available from
Russel Friedman Books, PO Box 73, Halfway House
1685. Tel. 011-7022300/1.
Trust. P/Bag X11, Parkview, 2122. Tel.
National Parks Board.
P/Bag X 402, Skukuza, 1350. Tel. 01311-65611.
Natal Parks Board.
Hluhluwe, PO Box 25, Mutubatuba, 3935. Tel.