24) AFRICAN WILD DOG
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
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
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.
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 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
* People interested in donating money to support African wild
dog research should contact the Endangered Wildlife Trust,
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.
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.
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.
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.