Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Height: 24 to 30 inches (61 to 76 centimeters) tall at the shoulder
Length: 2.5 to 3.5 feet (1.9 to 1.06 meters), excluding tail
Weight: 37 to 60 pounds (17 to 27 kilograms)
Life span: 9 to 10 years in the wild, 10 to 13 years in zoos
Number of young at birth: up to 21 in a litter, but average litter size is 10 to 12 pups
Weight at birth: about 10.5 ounces (300 grams)
Age of maturity: 18 months
Conservation status: critical risk
• Constant wanderers, African wild dogs rarely stay in one place
more than a day or two.
• The African wild dog has many common names, including Cape hunting dog, painted dog, and tricolored dog.
• Fossil remains seem to suggest that the African wild dog split from its canid relatives about 3 million years ago.
• It has been recorded that an adult dog will look for days for a lost pup or juvenile, calling out in a special vocalization and listening for a reply to bring the lost dog back to the pack.
Mammals: African Wild Dog
Here, doggie, doggie!
African wild dogs are classified in the Canidae, or true dog, family along with jackals, foxes, coyotes, wolves, dingoes, and domestic dogs. They are frequently mistaken as hyenas. However, hyenas are different enough to be in a separate taxonomic family, Hyaenidae.
African wild dogs differ from their other canid relatives in that they have four toes on their front feet instead of five. Long legs and a lanky body give the dogs both speed and endurance. Large, rounded ears give them excellent hearing and help keep the dogs cool in a hot climate. A pattern of splotches and splashes of black, different shades of brown, and white markings is unique to each individual dog and gives it one of its common names: African painted dog. African wild dogs are most like wolves in their social structure but seem to be gentler within their pack. The average pack size is between 5 and 20 dogs
Go, dog, go!
Each day begins with a greeting ceremony. Sounding like a flock of songbirds, the dogs fill the morning air with excited chirps and twitters as they gear up for the first hunt of the day. They run shoulder to shoulder and then pause to leap over and dive under each other. The dogs appear to "kiss" one another, licking and poking at the corners of each other's mouths. But this is really a food-begging behavior that plays an important role in social bonding within the pack. From there an excitement begins to overcome the entire pack until all the dogs are jumping and play fighting with each other, increasing their energy as they prepare to go on the hunt!
African wild dogs hunt twice a day, usually at dawn and dusk. Their disruptive coloration makes the wild dog pack look much larger than it really is. This confuses prey and helps the dogs hunt with more success than other African predators. In fact, African wild dogs are one of the most successful hunters in all of Africa, catching prey 70 to 90 percent of the time. (In contrast, lions are only successful 30 to 40 percent of the time.) Thomson's gazelles, impalas, and puku antelope are the main items on the dogs' menu.
The wild dogs owe part of their success to the way they hunt: they work as a group to catch their prey. They communicate within the pack by making high-pitched vocalizations or squeaks, which sound like a tennis shoe rubbing on a gymnasium floor! If a dog gets lost or separated from the group, it makes a sound like a bell called a "hoo" call. They can also signal their pack mates by moving their very large ears to show what direction to go or what to do. African wild dogs do not hunt in the same manner as lions do. Instead, they hunt in a relay form, taking turns running after the prey. The dogs depend on their ability to run for a long time without getting tired so they can outlast their prey. They can run up to 37 miles per hour (60 kilometers per hour) for up to 3 miles (4.8 kilometers). Once a kill is made, the dogs eat quickly before hyenas, lions, and vultures move in.
We are family
There is one dominant male and female, called the “alpha pair,” in a wild dog pack. Still, everyone in the pack gets along very well most of the time. Food sharing is a critical part of pack life. The adult dogs eat and then regurgitate (throw back up) the meat for injured or ill pack members and youngsters.
The alpha female can have up to 21 pups in one litter, more than any other dog species. Thankfully for the mother, all the pack members help care for the puppies. They keep an eye on them at the den, feed them after they have been weaned, and defend them against predators like lions and spotted hyenas. For about three months after the pups are born, the pack hunts closer to home so food (called "the kill") can be brought to the den to feed both pups and the den helpers (usually adult males!). When the pups are old enough to follow the adults to a kill, the hungry hunters will step back and watch for other predators while the young eat first.
With most social mammals, such as baboons, lions, and elephants, the females stay with the group and raise their young while the males leave to start new groups. Not so with African wild dogs—they do just the opposite! The females are the ones to leave the pack, sometimes as a group of sisters, to join a new pack when they are about three years old. Males generally remain in the pack they were born into. Therefore, the pack is mostly made up of males and has very few females, sometimes only one.
Room to run
Once found in most parts of Africa south of the Sahara Desert, African wild dogs are now gone from 25 of the 39 countries in which they were found a mere 50 years ago. Packs of 100 or more dogs used to be fairly common, but now these African predators are considered the second most endangered carnivore (after the Ethiopian wolf) in Africa. This has been due to habitat loss and fragmentation, as people are moving into more and more of the dogs' territory. Studies show that an African wild dog pack needs between 80 and 800 square miles (207 to 2,070 square kilometers) of land in which to roam and hunt. Unfortunately, most national parks in Africa are not large enough for even one wild dog pack, and family groups living outside protected areas are still killed by farmers and ranchers.