They are revered hunters and a sighting in the wilderness is a highlight for park visitors. How much do you know about the African wild dog?
The next time you drive through a park and are lucky enough to encounter some of Africa’s painted wolves, make sure you know a lot more. Take note and impress fellow nature lovers with Wild’s top 10 wild dog facts.
The African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) is classified as endangered and not easy to spot. If you want to bag a sighting, make sure your game drive is scheduled for early morning or late afternoon when these carnivores are most active. They also enjoy hunting when the moon is at its brightest.
Each dog’s tan, black and white coat is unique to it. Pups are born without the tan colour and these patches will appear only after a few months. The white patches, however, are there from birth and remain for life. This makes researching wild dogs easier as scientists can ID pups from birth and use the patterns to track them throughout life.
Why do wild dogs drink so little water? Did you know that thanks to their large and long intestines, and by eating quickly, they can absorb plenty of vital fluids? But make no mistake: when water is in abundance, wild dogs are more than happy to play and bath for hours on end.
Old aardvark holes usually serve as ideal hideaways where wild dogs give birth and raise their pups. All members of the pack are responsible for feeding the young, which they do by means of regurgitated meat. Within three months, the pups will leave the den to enjoy life as part of the pack. They will start taking part in hunts from about a year of age.
Wild dog pups are as cute as it gets. A litter usually consists of 11 pups, but due to the ever-present threats of predation and disease, only some 50% of youngsters will survive their first year in the wild. Little ones grow up under the watchful eye of their mother and other babysitters within the pack.
According to author Neil Aldridge in his book Underdogs, DNA testing has proved that alpha females mate with more than one male during oestrus. This results in litters of multiple paternity. Now, this give a whole new meaning to “Who’s your daddy?”.
They are quite the travellers and will cover up to 50km per day when food is scarce. With lions and hyenas as their biggest enemies, wild dogs are constantly on the move to find territory unoccupied by these unforgiving hunters.
If you’ve never seen how a pack of wild dogs devour their hapless victim, brace yourself. It’s quite a gory spectacle. Thanks to razor-sharp teeth combined with a dangerously strong bite, they make short work of a meal. Wild dogs have the practice of feeding cooperatively, so a kill is devoured within minutes. One dog grabs hold of the target with the rest of the pack swooping in to quickly disembowel the prey.
The next time you see a wild dog kill, you will know how the hunter managed to secure a meal. Three main factors explain their success. To begin with, wild dogs have good eyesight with which to spot prey. Secondly, they are light with long, thin legs and can run up to 60km/h. Thirdly, they are exceptionally social and hunting is done in packs. A cut-throat strategy that prey find difficult to escape from.
Trying to identify the pack’s alpha pair? Look carefully: Only the alpha male and female raise a leg when urinating. You may also notice the alpha male adopting a stalking pose to intimidate subordinates too confident for his liking.
Top spots to see wild dogs
- Kruger National Park
- Mapungubwe National Park
- Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park