African hunting dog, Cape hunting dog, Painted hunting dog, Painted dog, Painted wolf, Painted lycaon
The African wild dog is the largest indigenous canid in Africa and one of the most threatened mammals in the world. The fur of African wild dogs consists entirely of stiff bristle-hairs with no underfur. They gradually lose their fur as they age, and older specimens become almost naked. Fur color varies geographically, with northeastern African specimens tending to be predominantly black with small white and yellow patches, while southern African ones are more brightly colored, sporting a mix of brown, black and white coats. Their muzzle is usually black, gradually shading into brown on the cheeks and forehead. A black line extends up the forehead, turning blackish-brown on the back of the ears. A few specimens sport a brown teardrop-shaped mark below the eyes. The back of the head and neck are either brown or yellow. A white patch occasionally occurs behind the forelegs, with some specimens having completely white forelegs, chests, and throats. The tail is usually white at the tip, black in the middle and brown at the base. Some specimens lack the white tip entirely or may have black fur below the white tip. These coat patterns can be asymmetrical, with the left side of the body often having different markings from that of the right.
African wild dogs are native to sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of the species' population occurs in Southern Africa and southern East Africa. More specifically in countries such as Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Central African Republic, Chad, Malawi, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia. African wild dogs are mostly found in savanna, and arid zones, open plains, shrubland, and semi-desert, generally avoiding forested areas. This preference is likely linked to their hunting habits, which require open areas that do not obstruct vision or impede pursuit. Nevertheless, they will travel through the scrub, woodland and montane areas in pursuit of prey. Forest-dwelling populations of African wild dogs occur in the Harenna Forest, a wet montane forest in the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia. At least one record exists of a pack being sighted on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
African wild dogs are very social animals, living in packs with separate dominance hierarchies for males and females. Packs consist of 2 to 27 adults and yearling pups. Uniquely among social carnivores, the females rather than the males disperse from the natal pack once sexually mature. Males rarely disperse, and when they do, they are invariably rejected by other packs already containing males. African wild dogs are specialised diurnal pack hunters, which catch their prey by chasing them to exhaustion in a pursuit clocking at up to 66 km/h (41 mph) for 10 to 60 minutes. They have a higher success rate when it comes to killing prey even though they are smaller than lions and leopards. Their hunting strategies differ according to prey, with wildebeest being rushed at to panic the herd and isolate a vulnerable individual, whereas territorial antelopes, which defend themselves by running in wide circles, are captured by cutting off their escape routes. Medium-sized prey is often killed in 2-5 minutes, whereas larger prey such as wildebeest may take half an hour to pull down. Unlike most social predators, African wild dogs will regurgitate food for adult as well as young family members. They are not aggressive creatures and don't fight over food. Pups old enough to eat solid food are given first priority at kills, eating even before the dominant pair; subordinate adult dogs help feed and protect the pups.
African wild dogs are highly specialized for a carnivorous diet. They hunt gazelles and other antelopes, warthogs, wildebeest and their calves, ostrich, and calves of African buffalo. They also hunt smaller prey such as dik-dik, hares, spring hares, insects, birds, and cane rats. African wild dogs rarely scavenge, but have on occasion been observed to appropriate carcasses from Spotted hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, and lions, as well as animals caught in snares.
African wild dogs are monogamous. Every pack has a dominant breeding pair that mates for life. Populations in East Africa have no fixed breeding season, whereas those in Southern Africa usually breed during the April-July period. During this period, the female is closely accompanied by a single male, which keeps other members of the same sex at bay. African wild dogs produce more pups than any other canid, with litters containing around 6 to 16 pups, with an average of 10, thus indicating that a single female can produce enough young to form a new pack every year. The gestation period lasts 69-73 days. After giving birth, the mother stays close to the pups in the den, while the rest of the pack hunts. She typically drives away pack members approaching the pups until the latter are old enough to eat solid food at 3 to 4 weeks of age. The pups leave the den around the age of 3 weeks and are suckled outside. At the age of 5 weeks, the pups are weaned and are fed regurgitated meat by the other pack members. By 7 weeks, they begin to take on an adult appearance, with noticeable lengthening in the legs, muzzle, and ears. Once the pups reach the age of 8 to 10 weeks, the pack abandons the den and the young follow the adults during hunts. Both males and females become reproductively mature when they are 12-18 months old.
African wild dogs have disappeared from much of their original range. The decline of their populations is ongoing, due to habitat fragmentation, human persecution, and disease outbreaks. Another threat comes from competition with larger predators such as lions.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of African wild dogs is around 6,600 individuals which include only 1,400 mature individuals. Currently this species is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.
African wild dogs are a very important part of their ecosystem. They eliminate sick and weak animals thus helping to maintain a natural balance in nature.