African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus Temminck, 1820)
Range and Habitat
African wild dogs used to range widely throughout the continent of Africa south of the Sahara. Now they occur from south of the Sudan to the southern most point in Africa, having been extirpated from much of their former range. Preferred habitat is mostly in the savannah and arid regions of their range. They will avoid forests, but will live in scrubland and mountainous areas if there is suitable prey available.
At first glance, the African wild dog has a similar appearance to a hyena. Their body is lithe, carried on long, thin yet muscular legs. They have very large, oval shaped ears and a short broad muzzle. There is no appreciable sexual dimorphism in this species. Generally, though, amles are about 3-7% larger than females based on the skeletal dimensions. Body mass will vary significantly, and depends on how much and when they have eaten last, since wild dogs can consume up to 9 kg in one meal.
Unlike other canids, they lack dewclaws on the front feet; thus having only 4 toes on their front paws. They can run at speeds averaging 31 mph for very long distances. They are said to have a strong, musky odor. Females have 12-14 mammae.
The skull of the wild dog is very broad, with a wide zygomatic arc, which allows the animal to have a powerful bite. They have the dental formula (i= 3/3; c=1/1; p=4/4; m=2/3) x2, for a total of 42 teeth. The premolars of this species are relatively large compared to other canids. Similar to the hyenids, the African wild dog consumes a large quantity of bone material, and the enlarged premolars assist them in breaking apart bone.
Their fur is short and dense with with little undercoat. Their coloration and coat pattern varies widely, usually having a combination of yellows to yellowish brown, black and white, and is unique to the individual dog. The dogs appear to be able to recognize each other over distances of 50-100 m. These colors usually occur as blothes or patches over the body. Typically, the muzzle and ears are black, with a black line extending from the nose over the forehead, and the tail has a white tip. In some areas of their body the hair is sparse, so their black skin shows through. They are known as the painted wolf of Africa because of their unique coloration. The cubs are black and white at birth, developing their yellow coloration later on. The patterns on the African wild dog are bilaterally asymmetrical, meaning the patterns on either side do not match.
African wild dogs eat almost anything they can catch, usually impala, wildebeest, and gazelle. All adults will group together and go hunting, excluding the cubs. After stalking and chasing down their prey at speeds of up to 45 mph, they all dig in and disembowel their prey while it is still alive, and the entire carcass is consumed within minutes! It is this manner of killing that has earned the African wild dog its reputation. But there is no malice at a kill; they just do so in order to survive.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
When the female comes into heat, which can be at any time of the year, she is closely guarded by her mate, who aggressively keeps all other males away from her. He will spend all of his time with her, sleeping together, and following her around. Wherever she urinates he immediately urinates on the same spot. Sometimes the male will do a handstand to urinate in the same spot she is.
For the most part, the pups were born in the second half of the rainy season, although cubs are born year round. After a gestation period of about 2 months, she can give birth to an average of 12 cubs in a den she selects. It is usually the same site every year. For the first few days, the mother stays in the den with the cubs. They are born with their ears and eyes closed, and are helpless. They are also born black and white, the yellow color comes later. She feeds them nothing but milk for the first month of their life. They begin to eat solid food regurgitated by other pack members at 3-4 weeks old. The pups begin to wander outside the den around this time. Wild dog pups are usually weaned by five weeks. By seven weeks they begin to get their adult coloration and body shape in. When they are 8-10 weeks old, the pack leaves the den area to go into another area of their territory. The males help to raise the cubs and take an active role in their development. They feed the pups before the adults get to eat, unless they are to young to join in on the hunt; in which case the adults carry food to the cubs waiting for them at the den-site. The cubs get to eat first until they are a year old, which is the time that the hierarchy is established. The cubs are dependent on their parents for 12 - 14 months.
Only the alpha pair breed. If another pair breed in the same pack, the alpha female will do everything in her power to prevent food from going to that mother or her cubs. She will even go as far as to kill the other female's cubs. The reasoning is that the females have so many cubs in a litter, up to 21, that if more than one litter were born a year, the pack would be unable to provide for them. The African wild dog pack has evolved so that one female in a pack has all the cubs, rather than several having just a few cubs.
African wild dogs are diurnal (active during the daytime) and very social. They live in large family groups of up to 100 members, although today it is rare to find a group of much more than 30. The pack may occupy a territory of 680-900 miles square (1500-2000 km sq). Both the alpha male and female mark their large territory with urine. None of the other pack members mark territory, so it is easy to distinguish the alpha pair. The pack consists of a breeding pair (the alpha male and female) and their offspring from several generations. The other females in the pack assist the mother by lactating and helping to suckle the young, and will bring food back for the cubs when they are old enough to eat solid food. They are cooperative hunters. They will hunt in large groups and almost tirelessly take down large prey. African wild dogs that are in large packs, of about 100 members, fair very well, and are very resilient to changes. However, packs of 30 or less are more easily susceptible to changes in the environment and to the complete decimation of their pack from diseases and changes.
Separate hierarchies exist among male and female pack members; all the females have their own ranks and all the males have their own ranks with no influence of ranks form the opposite sex. The females settle arguments of rank among only other females; and likewise with males. The alpha female is in charge of all the females in the pack, and the alpha male is in charge of all the males, too. And one of them is usually more dominant -- the leader, who is in charge of making decisions about hunting and den locations, etc. Instead of rank being determined by aggression, like it is in other canids, it is determined by posturing, with no teeth baring or snarling whatsoever. The dominant wild dog will assume a posture that looks like it is stalking, with its head lowered, ears back, eyes looking straight forward, and walking very deliberately. The reason wild dogs do not act aggressively to assert rank may be due to the fact that the entire social system is so cooperative-dependent that if one should be injured, the pack would be hurting for food. An African wild dog pack is dependent upon abundant food, and only one pair breeds, and those puppies are dependent on their parents for such a long period of time, that cooperation is a necessity. So, instead of an active hierarchy, they have a passive hierarchy, with submission being emphasized rather than dominance.
There is an intense greeting ceremony. When two wild dogs meet, they display such submission to one another, muzzle licking, whining, and even regurgitating food to the other. This goes to further illustrate the point that they act in submission. They all act like puppies, being submissive to one another, to the point that African wild dogs will not even fight over food. If two wild dogs have a piece of food that they both want, rather than inflict injuries upon the other, they will practice "aggressive begging", where they will flatten their ears, curl their lips, lower their front-quarters, curl their tail over their back, and try to crawl under the other wild dog.
Unlike most social mammals, it is the males that stay with their natal pack and the females who leave. And even more odd, the ration of males to females shows in favor of the males, with 3 male adults to every female adult. This arrangement is to prevent inbreeding. The females go to a pack of unrelated males to breed with them.
African wild dogs will eat, play and even sleep together in large masses. They love sleeping in huge groups, for no reason other than that they must enjoy one another's company. They are very playful and will expend lots of energy play-fighting, by mobbing up on one another, stalking and pouncing on one another, and wrestling.
African wild dogs communicate in a variety of ways. Just like other members of the canid family, they use scent (olfactory), sounds and postures (body language) to communicate.
Olfactory (Scent Communication)
Wild dogs have a very strong odor about them. It is unknown why they do, but it is presumed that it is so they can easily be detected from a distance by other pack members. Unlike other canids, wild dogs do not urine-mark, except for the alpha pair, who only do it during mating season. They also urine mark the den-area, which is the only part of their territory which is heavily guarded. Wild dogs also have scent glands located in and around their anus, on their genitals, and on their face. These glands are used to communicate sexual readiness, gender, age, health, and status of the animal. Another wild dog can smell the scent left by the anal glands when another defecates and determine each of these things.
Vocal (Sound Communication)
When two wild dogs come into contact with one another, they let out a low-pitched cooing sound. A deep bark serves as their alarm call. They growl to express anger towards another wild dog. The cubs make a high pitched whining sound when trying to get the attention of other pack members.
The behavior of wild dogs is designed to act like puppies; all their energy goes into being submissive. Very little aggressive tendencies exist in the wild dog. They will lick lips and muzzles, lying on their back in submission, laying their ears flat, whining, and not making eye contact. When a subordinate asserts itself, it is met by bared teeth, an erect flared tail, and a stalking posture, which is held with the intention of ambushing the other dog. The stalking threat display is not seen anywhere else in the dog family. When there is a serious fight that is not resolved by body postures, a real fight will break out, but this is very rare. They try to get a throat grip on the other dog, until one dog gives up by playing dead.
The African Wild Dog once used to have a very large population, and it was not uncommon to see them roam in packs of over 100 animals. Now it is rare to see a pack with more than 20 animals in most areas. The most common threats to the African wild dog are habitat fragmentation, competition, and diseases. Since they have very large home ranges, this presents a problem to them with humans encroaching on their territory, and creating wildlife reserves only serves to worsen the problem, since wildlife reserves are very fragmented and small. Wild dogs have no natural predators, but they will compete with larger predators such as the lion, hyena, and leopard. This, again, is worsened by the wildlife reserves, which force the animals together in a very small space. Diseases take a tremendous toll on the wild dog. Humans with their domestic dogs worsen the problem, as the domestic dog harbors many diseases and can spread them easily to the wild dog. An entire population has become extinct due to diseases.
Population and Distribution Status
It is estimated that there are between 3,000 - 5,000 individual wild dogs in about 600 - 1,000 packs remaining in Africa.
North Africa: There are very few, if any, wild dogs remaining in northern African countries.
West Africa: They are doing very poorly in western Africa, with only a single viable population in Senegal, which is of high conservative value.
Central Africa: They are also doing poorly in central Africa. with a potentially viable population in Cameroon, with a couple more possibilities in Central African Republic and Tchad. The African wild dog is officially extinct in Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in the Republic of Congo.
East Africa: They have a patchy distribution in eastern Africa, though better than either western or northern Africa. They have been mostly erradicated throughout most of Kenya and Uganda. There is a very large population in southern Tanzania, which is one of the largest in all of Africa. Other viable populations exist in northern Tanzania, and a small population has been found in southern Ethiopia, which is hoped to spread to nearby Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. There are very few wild dogs left elsewhere in Sudan. They are extinct in Rwanda, Burundi and Eritrea, and also thought to be extinct in Somalia.
Southern Africa: The most viable populations of African wild dogs exists in southern Africa. More than half of the total wild dog population exists in this region. The largest population occurs in Botswana, north-east Namibia, and western Zimbabwe. Kruger National Park has about 400 wild dogs. Zambia has two large populations. They are rare in Malawi, and almost extinct in Mozambique.