BY: Tasneem Johnson-Dollie
What African wild dog facts do you know besides that they’re from Africa? Well, now’s your chance to get clued up on these stalwarts of the savannah before heading off on your professional field guide course.
There are tons of facts about this species that’ll make you want to take a closer look. For example, African wild dogs are the biggest wild dog species on the continent and the second-most endangered.
Let’s find out more by taking a look at some interesting facts about African wild dogs.
Not all wild dogs in Africa are easy to tell apart from domesticated dogs. But here are some African wild dog features that set them apart:
- They’re the biggest wild dogs in Africa and have longer legs than the average-sized domesticated dog.
- Their large, rounded ears aren’t seen on any domestic dog breeds.
- They have multicoloured coats featuring black, brown, orange, white and yellow hair.
- You’ll find only four toes on their front paws instead of the five seen in most domesticated dogs.
And these differences don’t just end at appearance. This type of wild dog in Africa isn’t able to interbreed with any domestic dog species. Also, these wild African dogs are so dependent on their habitats and social structures that no one has been able to tame this species.
2) Their coat colour differs according to where they live
While African wild dogs across the continent have similarly coloured faces and tails, coat patterns differ from one wild dog to the next. This makes it easier for conservationists to keep track of individuals within a group while collecting data.
But, scientists have also seen that these wild African dogs’ coat patterns vary according to the region in Africa where they live. African wild dogs have distinct eastern-African or southern-African coat patterns.
Eastern-African wild dogs of this species live in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania and their coat patterns have more black colouring, with smaller patches of white and yellow fur.
Southern-African wild dogs live in South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia or Zimbabwe and their coat patterns have an almost equal mixture of brown, black and white fur.
These differences in coat patterns allow African wild dogs in different regions to blend in with the vegetation in their natural habitats.
3) They’re known by different names
This species of wild dogs in Africa goes by the scientific name Lycaon pictus, meaning painted wolf.
But they also go by a number of other names including:
- the painted dog – because of their multicoloured coats
- the African wild dog – because African wild dog habitats are found only in Africa
- the Cape hunting dog – because of their widespread distribution around the cape regions of Southern Africa.
4) They’re some of the savannah’s most social animals
African wild dogs are thought to be the most efficient hunters in the world and this has to do with their strong social bonds.
These wild African dogs run in packs of 15 to 40 members, but packs of up to 100 individuals have also been documented!
In contrast to some of the other African animals that live in groups, like lions and hippos, African wild dogs don’t show aggression within their social hierarchy. One example of this is the fact that African wild dogs don’t try to intimidate each other.
Instead, they’ve been seen to take turns caring for their sick and ensuring that African wild dog pups get first pick of any food. In some cases, researchers have even spotted adult African wild dogs offering food to nursing mothers and seen a type of voting practised among the pack where individuals sneeze to cast their vote!
Their highly social behaviour makes them a species of wild African dog that are great at communicating.
And, because they’re so good at communication and working as a group, African wild dogs are even better hunters than lions and hyenas. While lions have an average hunting success of 30%, African wild dogs are known to successfully take down around 80% of their prey.
But it’s not just their social prowess that makes them such competitive predators. African wild dogs are also known for their stamina. They can run at over 50 kilometres per hour for long distances and reach speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour.
They easily outrun prey like wildebeests and warthogs and are known to use teamwork to take on prey like speedy gazelles and prickly porcupines.
5) Why is the African wild dog endangered?
And, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species is where we’ve found the most concerning facts about African wild dogs. There are just 1,409 African wild dogs left in the wild and their numbers are decreasing every year.
The biggest challenges to the African wild dog population are:
- habitat fragmentation – the breaking up of African wild dog habitats due to human developments
- habitat destruction – the loss of large areas of natural habitat due to climate change or human activity like farming
- conflict with humans – interactions between farmers and African wild dogs have often ended in conflict.
Because this type of wild African dog is nomadic by nature, they need large spaces with open travel routes to ensure their survival.
With the negative impact of global warming and human activity on African wild dog habitats, this is becoming even more of a challenge for these wild dogs in Africa.
As a Bushwise Field Guides student on a Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA)-accredited course in the savannah, you’ll learn even more facts about African wild dogs and get to add to their conservation in one of the biggest African wild dog habitats.