African Wild Dog

African Wild Dog Photo
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

The African wild dog, one of the lesser known wild canids, is highly social and spends its entire life in a close-knit, nomadic pack. The group consists of fewer than 15 related males, several adult females, and their pups. The alpha male and female of each pack are usually the only members that breed. Group interactions include elaborate greeting ceremonies with leaping, face licking, tail wagging, and a rich variety of vocalizations.

During mornings and early evenings, packs search together within their home range for antelopes (duiker, reedbuck, impala, and Thomson’s gazelle), as well as larger wildebeest and the occasional zebra, particularly if these prey are ill or injured. Unlike some carnivores, African wild dogs feed peacefully after a hunt, and all members share in the feast. They may regurgitate portions back at the den for young, elderly, or weak pack members that cannot participate in the hunt.

Family is important to African wild dogs. Raising the pups of the dominant breeding pair and caring for old or sick individuals is a group task. Females reach sexual maturity at 18 months to two years, at which point they leave to join a new pack. But males remain with their natal pack for the rest of their lives, which last, on average, 11 years.

Fast Facts

Scientific NameLycaon pictus
  • The African wild dog's scientific name is derived from the Greek for “wolf” and the Latin for “painted,” referring to the animal’s mottled coat of yellow, black, white, and brown. Each animal has its own unique coat pattern.
  • The species descended from a unique lineage at least a million years ago.
  • Litters typically include 6 to 12 pups, but can number up to 20, although infant mortality is high. The tiny, helpless newborns open their eyes after 13 days and are weaned by 11 weeks. After a year, the juveniles are proficient hunters.

Challenges

Wild dogs are the second most endangered carnivore (after the Ethiopian wolf) in Africa. They once ranged throughout the savannah, grassland, and open forest areas of sub-Saharan Africa, but viable populations are now found only in fragmented habitats in Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, and parts of Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and the Transvaal. Only 3,000 to 6,000 remain in the wild. The main threats are habitat fragmentation and isolation due to human activities; contact with human settlements and domestic dogs, which can result in disease transmission; and lack of prey, which sometimes leads to conflicts with farmers over livestock. Lycaon pictus is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List.

One pack of wild dogs typically needs a home range of about 385 square miles, but conservationists suggest that areas truly large enough to protect their movements from persecution and diseases in domestic dogs should be 3,850 square miles—nearly the size of the state of Connecticut. Connecting some parks and reserves in Africa is helping to create larger areas for this species, and measures to protect the dogs outside parks are needed.

WCS Responds

WCS is working in Kenya, Tanzania, and Southern Sudan to conserve African wild dogs and their remaining habitats. Our field conservationists are studying the animals’ requirements and helping local communities and authorities zone lands to accommodate wild dog home ranges and prevent encounters with livestock. WCS is also helping develop ecotourism programs featuring African wild dogs to create a community-based incentive for their conservation. The latest WCS initiative is a continent-wide conservation planning exercise, bringing together land managers and governments to finalize a set of priority actions in 2011 and seek funding to support the most important conservation actions necessary to save African wild dogs.

From the Newsroom

Fear of Ecological Collapse in Southern AfricaOctober 26, 2012

WCS and partner organizations have issued a new report emphasizing paramount threats to wildlife in Southern Africa. Illegal hunting, the bushmeat trade, and unselective snaring are compromising already-fragile species.

Road to Bisect the SerengetiAugust 25, 2010

The government of Tanzania plans to build a highway through Serengeti National Park, potentially disrupting one of the world’s biggest migrations of large mammals and jeopardizing a popular tourism destination. WCS and partners urge the country's officials to consider alternate routes.

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