Painted pack hunters

African wild dogs are among the most effective predators in the world. They use extraordinary cooperation and teamwork to pursue, overhaul and bring down their prey. As a result 80% of their hunts end successfully, compared to, say, lions at 10%. This is nearly all a result of their pack coordination, which is still a rich source of zoological research. It was only recently discovered that they use sneezes to ‘vote’ on hunting decisions – just one of many fascinating African wild dogs facts.

This cooperation extends to their social structure; they have complex hierarchies in which only the alpha male and female breed. The pack regurgitates food for the young, but this action is also extended to adults, to the point of being the bedrock of African wild dogs’ social life.

On the whole they are surprisingly non-aggressive; for example they do not fight over food but instead beg to indicate their wish to eat. Adults will allow younger pack members to eat before them.

African wild dog facts

  • Unlike other canine species, they have only four toes on each foot.
  • Pups are born every year, usually between March and June. A litter may contain as many as 16 pups.
  • They hunt mainly medium-sized antelope but are capable of bringing down a 250-kilo wildebeest.
  • It is thought that they communicate when hunting, using calls and body language to signal to each other.
  • The dogs range particularly widely, and need larger areas than almost any other terrestrial carnivore species in the world.
  • Due to their beautiful markings, they are also referred to – more evocatively – as painted hunting dogs.
At a glance
Lycaon pictus
Endangered

Family:

Canidae

Order:

Carnivora

Estimated in the wild:

6600, with only 1400 mature individuals

If African wild dogs are going to be saved, we need to find ways to coexist with them, minimise conflict with humans, and prevent disease transmission from domesticated dogs.

1400

The number of mature African wild dogs left in the wild.

39

The number of remaining subpopulations, many of which are incredibly fragile.

Conservation story

African wild dogs are struggling to cope with the rapid increase in human settlements and infrastructure development that are encroaching on their traditional range. They are perfectly adapted to their natural environment, but require vast territories to survive – much larger than most other carnivore species. This increased exposure to human contact poses numerous threats to the wild dogs’ survival.

Whilst they normally prefer wild prey, wild dogs may attack domestic livestock if the opportunity arises, leading to conflict with farmers that may result in pack members being shot.

Wild dogs often cross high-speed roads. There are even several instances of packs using roads to rest on and travel along. This leads to numerous accidents – especially where roads cut through dense wildlife areas.

African wild dogs are susceptible to most of the same diseases as domestic dogs, and contact with human settlements exposes them to infectious diseases such as canine distemper and parvovirus. This has recently led to major population crashes in several locations. Rabies in particular has been a major factor in recent local extinctions and infection from domestic dogs remains a huge risk.

Conservation efforts are focused on coexistence, conflict resolution, and accident and disease prevention. For example, domestic livestock killed by dogs is purchased at a fair price to deter farmers from shooting dogs, warning signs are being put up on roadsides, and rabies vaccines are being distributed to nearby communities.

How FFI is helping to save the African wild dog

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is supporting wild dog conservation in a host of locations and countries, most notably in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy, which has witnessed remarkable success in recent years. Wildlife corridors have been opened to connect wild dogs with nearby protected areas in order to minimise contact with humans. The strategic deployment of fencing has reduced the risk of wild dog packs encroaching on community land and preying on domestic livestock. Ol Pejeta has also employed teams of vets, who are helping wild dogs to recover from diseases.

All these conservation actions have been producing fantastic results for wild dogs and the population at Ol Pejeta is now at its highest in recent history. FFI hopes to replicate this success in many other project locations, and improve the survival prospects of Africa’s peerless pack hunter.