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 persecuted unrelentlessly.

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 hearing.


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.


HUNTING

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.

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 menu.


BREEDING

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.


DISTRIBUTION

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.


WHY ENDANGERED?

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 preservation.

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 below.


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.


FURTHER READING

SOUTHERN AFRICA'S 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, Pretoria. 1990.

PAINTED WOLVES - WILD DOGS OF THE SERENGETI-MARA. J. Scott. Hamish Hamilton, London. 1991.

PREDATORS AND FARMERS. 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.


CONTACT ORGANISATIONS

Endangered Wildlife Trust. P/Bag X11, Parkview, 2122. Tel. 011-4861102.

National Parks Board. P/Bag X 402, Skukuza, 1350. Tel. 01311-65611.

Natal Parks Board. Hluhluwe, PO Box 25, Mutubatuba, 3935. Tel. 0355620-255.


Created and maintained by: Jocelyn Collins
Last Updated: Thursday, February 01, 2001