About Wild Dogs - African Wildlife Conservation Fund (2024)

About African Wild Dogs

Their scientific name is Lycaon pictus, which translates as “painted wolf-like animal”. African wild dogs are Africa’s second most endangered large carnivore, occurring in only 14 African countries, and with viable populations left in only eight (Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana and Kenya).

There are an estimated 6,600 adult and yearling wild dogs left in the wild. Since wild dogs are a pack species (average 10 individuals), this translates to only 660 packs (or breeding females). Population size is continuing to decline as a result of ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation, conflict with humans, and infectious disease.

Wild dogs are classified as endangered by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but are listed on Appendix 2 of the Convention of Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS).

Map of global Wild Dog distribution

Learn about the Wild Dog's features

About Wild Dogs - African Wildlife Conservation Fund (1)

Large, rounded ‘Mickey Mouse’ ears. Distinguishing feature. Help to pick up long-distance contact calls from pack members, and probably serves a thermoregulatory function.

Black muzzle gradually shading into brown on the cheeks and forehead Forehead is pale fawn to white, on either side of the black line which runs from the muzzle to between ears.

Characteristic and mottled coat patterns of black, white and brown/tan. Coat patterns are unique to individuals and asymmetrical – the left side of the body having different markings to the right. The coat consists entirely of stiff bristle-hairs with no under fur. Adults usually measure 75-110 cm in length, and stand 60-75 cm at the shoulder. Adults can weigh up to 30 kg, but weigh 25 kg on average.

Long legged with only four toes per foot. They lack dewclaws characteristic of other dogs, and they have non-retractile claws. Coursing predators that chase down their prey at speeds of 60km/hour or more.

Bushy tail which is generally white at the tip, black in the middle, and brown at the base. Some lack the white tip entirely, or may have black fur below the white tip. The white tip may serve as a ‘flag’ to keep the pack in contact when hunting.

African Wild Dogs in Southern Africa

About Wild Dogs - African Wildlife Conservation Fund (2)

Recent surveys indicate that Angola has more wild dogs than previously thought. Despite these exciting findings, densities are low and threats high.

Zambia’s wild dogs are found mostly in the Greater Luangwa Ecosystem and Kafue National Park. The country’s population is estimated at 476 individuals or only 43 packs.

Niassa National Reserve is a stronghold for wild dogs in Mozambique. In total the country is estimated to hold 65 wild dog packs (497 individuals) in 3 or 4 main populations.

Most wild dogs in Zimbabwe are found in three main populations; the Greater Hwange Ecosystem, the Zambezi Valley and the south-east lowveld (the AWCF study site!). In total the Zimbabwean population is estimated at 660 dogs in 86 packs.

Botswana is one of the major strongholds for endangered African wild dogs. There are estimated to be 1,310 individuals (or 131 packs) in the country, covering a range of over 315,000km2.

The only free ranging wild dogs in South Africa are found in and around the Kruger National Park (about 300 individuals). In addition, there are another 220 or so dogs in small reserves, managed as part of a managed metapopulation approach.

Wild dogs are resident across over 180,000km2 of Namibia. There are estimated to be about 550 dogs in the country in 45 packs, only a handful of which are in protected areas.

There are currently no resident wild dogs in Malawi, although they are sometimes spotted in Kasungu National Park when they cross over from Zambia.

About Wild Dogs - African Wildlife Conservation Fund (3)

Social Organisation, Behaviour & Reproduction

Wild dogs are highly social canids living in packs of 2-40 individuals. The dominance hierarchy is characterised by a monogamous breeding pair, an alpha male and alpha female, and subordinates.

Wild dogs are obligate cooperative breeders; usually only the alpha female will produce a litter of two to 21 pups (average c. seven), which are born in a den, and first emerge at about three weeks of age. Young are born during the dry winter months when grass is short and hunting conditions are at their best. Den sites are typically burrows excavated by aardvarks, or caves and crevices in rocky areas.

Once they are weaned, the pups are cared for by the entire pack. The mother relies on helpers to bring her food when confined to the den with her pups, and to help feed the pups. Rather than carry meat to the den, wild dogs regurgitate meat for the alpha female and pups. African wild dogs are very social, and packs share food with and assist weak or ill members.

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There are only 650 African Wild Dog packs left in the whole world.
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Habitat & Diet

Wild dogs are almost exclusive hunters (rarely scavenge), and prey on a variety of medium-sized antelope. They are also capable of taking much larger prey such as wildebeest, mainly targeting weak or injured individuals. Wild dogs are highly successful and efficient hunters known for their endurance, skill and speed. They can run at speeds up to 60 km per hour and maintain this speed over long distances (3-4 km). Wild dogs are crepuscular, favouring the early mornings and evenings for hunting.

African wild dogs are a wide ranging species living in low densities, and thus require vast areas of intact habitat to sustain a viable population. A single pack can range over 3,000 km², but average home ranges tend to be more in the region of 300-800 km². During the denning season, home ranges are severely restricted (80 km²). Wild dogs are habitat generalists; there is historical evidence of them near the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and in the sea off the Kenyan coast. Nowadays, they typically roam the open plains and sparse woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa.

About Wild Dogs - African Wildlife Conservation Fund (4)

About Wild Dogs - African Wildlife Conservation Fund (5)

Threats & Conservation Action

In the face of increasing habitat loss and fragmentation, and as a result of their wide-ranging behaviour, wild dog packs often come into contact with humans and domestic animals. As well as suffering direct persecution due to occasional livestock predation, they are also susceptible to diseases spread by domestic animals (e.g. rabies and canine distemper). Wire snares set by poachers for bushmeat are a significant cause of wild dog mortality, as is mortality on roads. Natural causes of mortality include direct (predation) and indirect (stealing of kills, disturbance at den sites) competition from other predators such as lions and spotted hyenas.

Solutions for effective conservation entail securing and rebuilding vast tracts of habitat, and creating connectivity between isolated habitat fragments. Furthermore, to reduce the illegal bushmeat trade to prevent wild dog deaths from wire snares, and community engagement and education. This is vital to address negative misperceptions about the species, to help encourage tolerance through reducing livestock losses and providing benefits, and to help develop an appreciation for wild dogs.

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About Wild Dogs - African Wildlife Conservation Fund (2024)
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