An African Wild Dog is about the size of a German Shepherd, has long legs, large ears, a slender body with an average weight of 20-30kgs. They have unique black, yellow, brown and white mottled fur. Their scientific name Lycaon pictus means “painted wolf” due to their unusual coat colouration. These are the only dogs to have only four toes on the front foot as well as highly specialised hearing.
Other unique features include their pack structure, which is mostly made up of related males and a female from a different lineage. These dogs live in tightly bonded social groups of two to 30 individuals led by a dominant male and female.
They are an Endangered species (IUCN).
Distribution & Habitat
African Wild Dogs live in a range of habitats including short-grass plains, semi-desert, bushy savannahs and upland forest.
African Wild Dogs have disappeared from much of their former range. The species is now virtually absent in West Africa, and greatly reduced in central Africa and north-east Africa. The largest populations remain in southern Africa and the southern part of east Africa. It is estimated that only 3000–5500 free-ranging wild dogs remain in Africa. Population size is continuing to decline as a result of ongoing conflict with human activities, infectious disease and habitat fragmentation.
A female can have as many as 16 pups in a litter. Wild Dogs are the only predators that allow their young to feed on a kill before the adults. Adults will also return to regurgitate meat for members of the pack who remain behind caring for pups.
Taronga Western Plains Zoo has extensive experience working with African Wild Dogs having held the species since 1982. Keepers have become proficient in husbandry, breeding and pack development and movements, and have seen a large number of births in the program. The recent birth of four pups in May 2009 is very significant for the regional breeding program as it ensures genetic diversity within the captive African Wild Dog population.
African Wild Dogs mostly hunt medium-sized antelope. Their prey average around 50kg and may be as large as 200kg, whereas they only weigh 20–30kg. Other prey include Impala, Greater Kudu, Gazelle and Common Wildebeest. They will also give chase to larger species, such as Common Eland and African Buffalo, but rarely kill such prey. Wild Dogs also take very small prey such as hares, lizards and eggs, however these make a very small contribution to their diet.
They have unusual greeting behaviors, the most obvious being affectionate face licking.
Taronga's Conservation Work
Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford - 2009 Field Grant
Historical data indicate that African Wild Dogs were once distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, from the desert (Lhote 1946) to mountain summits (Thesiger 1970), and probably were absent only from lowland rainforest and the driest desert (Schaller 1972). They have disappeared from much of their former range – 25 of 39 former range states no longer support populations (Fanshawe et al. 1997). The species is virtually eradicated from West Africa, and greatly reduced in central Africa and north-east Africa. The largest populations remain in southern Africa (especially northern Botswana, western Zimbabwe, eastern Namibia, and Kruger National Park, South Africa) and the southern part of East Africa (especially Tanzania and northern Mozambique).