Revered and reviled
“The African wild dog is one of the most revered, reviled and fascinating animals on the continent. It’s unusually communal and s
eemingly caring social structure endear it to human beings while it’s hunting style has been described as savage and cruel by people who don’t understand it. It is Africa’s second most endangered carnivore.
(Incidentally, the dubious distinction of ‘most endangered carnivore’ on the continent goes to the Simean jackal or Ethiopian wolf – a reddish jackal-like canid that lives in the Afro-alpine regions of Ethiopia).
Life and times of the African wolf
Wild dogs are the wolves of Africa and their zoological name Lycaon (Greek for wolf) pictus (Latin for painted) is an appropriate moniker. Their social structure is very similar to their European and American cousins although at 27kgs, they are about two thirds t
he mass. The pack (from two to up 30 individuals) is lead by an alpha pair who, unless the pack is enormous, is normally the only one to breed. This they do once a year, normally in the winter when the vegetation is thin allowing the pack increased visibility which suits their pernicious and unsubtle hunting style. The whole pack will feed the pups by regurgitating meat for them. They do this for sick and injured members too. Wild dogs favour woodland and savannah habitats but they can easily exist in grassland.
Wild dog packs are highly efficient hunting units. They do not employ the subtleties of the stalking feline counterparts. Instead they simply sight a herd of potential prey and then tear off after them, sometimes reaching speeds of 60 kph. The alpha male normally leads the hunt and packs have been known to chase prey for more than five kilometres at a time. They’re not particularly fussy eaters and will eat anything from scrub hares to wildebeest. That said, they like their meals fresh and tend not to eat carrion or rancid meat – unlike jackals, hyaenas and the big cats.
Where are they now?
Wild dogs used to be distributed throughout Africa but for the desert and rain f
orest regions of the continent. During the last century however, these incredible animals were been reduced to an estimated 5000 individuals. Their decline has been brought about by human persecution, disease and habitat loss. Most of the remaining dogs are concentrated in southern Africa with a small population in Tanzania, an isolated group in Senegal and there are confirmed populations in central Africa. There are also anecdotal reports of dogs from Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Nigeria, Algeria and Mauritania.
In southern Africa, the dogs occur in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Angola and the far north east of Namibia. There are also records of individuals in Mozambique south of the Zambezi River.
Botswana offers some of the best wild dog viewing with packs found in the Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve, Chobe-Linyanti river system, Nxai Pan National Park an
d Chobe National Park. They also occur in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
In Zimbabwe packs occur in the Hwange and Mana Pools National Parks although they also live in Gonarezhou in the far south east – these probably come in and out from the Kruger in South Africa.
In South Africa, the largest wild dog population occurs in the Kruger National Park and visitors to the southern end of the Kruger and nearby p
rivate game reserves often have fantastic wild dog sightings.”