African wild dog (Lycaon pictus)

The African wild dog has a very striking appearance, both in appearance and the group size with which he travels around. He is considered the most efficient big hunter in Africa. Although he is less powerful than its rivals, which also operate in groups as lion and spotted hyena, their mutual cooperation is much better. A pack of wild dogs achieves the highest score when it comes to the number of hunting parties which ends with actually prey.


The African dog is in English called Painted Dog a title that does justice to his appearance which consists of free-shaped black and white stripes and spots on yellow brown background. And in an individual way so none of the dogs is equal to another. This helps individual recognition greatly. Scientists making grateful use of it to distinguish individuals without any disturbance. He is, after the wolf, the largest wild canine. With an adult weight between 17 and 36 kg. A tall, thin animal with a shoulder height of 75 cm and a length of between 75 and 141 cm. The tail adds 30 to 45 cm to it. In South Africa, the dogs are often greater than in East and West Africa. There is only a slight difference in size between males and females, with males a few percent larger (up 7%). The bite force (expressed as a quotient which the bite force, related to the own-weight) of 142 in wild dogs is the largest of any of the other carnivorous mammals (The Tasmanian devil, a marsupial, is the only exception) and surpasses that of wolf (136) and hyena (117).


The wild dog is only being distributed across Africa. From South Africa, north along the east side of Africa and then fanned out over the tropical jungles to the west in the sub-Saharan. North Africa has never been really inhabited. The northernmost site is found in southern Algeria. Less than one hundred years ago, the population was estimated at half a million (500,000) dogs spread across 39 countries in Africa. Today is the estimated population of about 6,000 animals just above 1% of the original number. There is still much uncertainty because it is a species with very large land claims and thereby tremendously mobile. Nevertheless, it is thought that only 22 countries and conservative estimates were only 14 countries harboring a wild dog population. Whether the lower corner of Libya / Algeria there still belongs to is impossible to say with certainty. The political situation does not make it easy to obtain reliable data. The species has next to many dangers, the capacity to re-establish themselves over long distances and quickly (re-)build a population of some size. However, small populations are susceptible to calamities. Dog diseases (viruses) as parvo and canine distemper, or rabies can cause rapid extinction at a local population level.

Geographical variation

In a distribution area which extends over thousands of kilometers and different climate zones, it is not surprising that differences arise. In wild dogs there are five subspecies distinct, for us is the subspecies Lycaon pictus saharicus of interest.


Wild dogs inhabit a whole range of different habitats, from short grassland, savannah, bush-savannas and light forests, semi-deserts and desert mountains to mountain forests. They travel on a large scale to cover a big area, looking for prey. This huge land claims, tens of thousands of square kilometers, bring them easily in touch with human habitation. Resulting in a negative effect. The highest densities are achieved in forested areas, which is related to the number of available prey. And the opportunity to find a suitable den or to dig one, for the pups.

Food and hunting technique

African wild dogs are generalists, they prey mainly on mid-sized antelope. Sometimes they hunt large prey, in addition to large antelopes also zebra and buffalo or young giraffes. Even wild boars often fall prey. Such success seems to be related to the "culture" of the pack. Apparently hunting strategy and prey choice is transferred within the community of a pack. For large prey this is very well matched to the cooperation of the pack members, to bring down prey many times heavier than themselves. Prey is attacked by a system and order. The tail is grabbed first to slow down the prey and distract it. Then often an alpha male starts attacking at the nose of the prey. The remaining animals tackle the flanks. Even small prey animals, from hare to lizard, are not rejected, although always just a small part of the diet. The prey is shared with all members of the pack, it is striking that there is hardly any aggression. Most of the energy is put into begging at each other. A habit that perhaps explains why packs are so successful to bring a large number of pups to adulthood. The mutual care and dedication is extremely you can say and surpasses that of the much better studied wolf in many aspects.


Wild dogs can give birth throughout the year. A litter - after a gestation period of 69-72 days – can include 2 to 19 pups, normally about 10. The time between births is usually one year to 14 months. But it can be, with half year, much shorter. For example, by losing a total previous litter. The pups are born in a den. This can be a self-dug hole, but often an existing hole (Aardvark) enlarged to appropriate size.

Development of pups

The pups are weaned after 10 weeks and with three months, the pups leave the den and come along with the pack. At the age of 8 to 11 months, they are able themselves to kill small prey, but remain dependent for their food from the adult pack members. A real contribution, they start to deliver at an age of 12-14 months. They are sexually mature at ages ranging from one to one and a half years. At wild dogs, females leave the natal pack, to join a pack where sexually mature females lack. This occurs at ages of more than one year to two and a half years old. New packs may also arise because the pups of one sex, merge with a group of the opposite sex, who have left their natal pack and form a new pack.

Behavior and social system

We talked a few times about a pack, but the organization of wild dogs surpasses that of wolves on a number of points. Both have mutual communication with smell and sound, but the method of hunting is perfected by wild dogs. They became masters in very fast, efficient hunting, the individual members complement each other well. For the prey this means less stress and a quicker death. For the dogs, which often have to give up their prey to stronger competitors as hyenas and lions, it is of importance to eat quickly as much food as possible. The speed at which they work makes the difference or they enjoy the benefit from their effort. Another important feature is the fact that several animals, take meat in their stomach to feed the pups or sick laggards. So that each member of the pack benefits from the community. The bond between the alpha pair and the pups is very close and prolonged. Hunting brings risks of injury along with it, but still be provided with the possibility to feed during recovery, assists a pack to remain intact for longer periods and will remain the knowledge gained from experience in the group.

Males are staying in the wild dog packs, an atypical social behavior among canines. The male to female ratio is often 2 : 1 among wild dogs. The females seek males who can help best in rearing their litter. And normally get only the dominant female a litter in a pack. What is abnormal in wild dogs too is the fact that some adults remain behind in the hunt to watch over the pups. It can also be grown men. While mothers hunt with. In small packs this could have an adverse effect on the hunt succes. Wild dogs have both, a male as well as a female hierarchy. While younger animals will give priority in access to food. Charming behavior is rewarded over aggression. This prevents victims and is even committed in the league to reproduction. As a developed form, in which dominance is mainly determined by submissive behavior. Even so that unrelated newcomers will integrate successful in the pack without bloodshed.

Natural enemies

Of course there is sometimes a victim of a cobra or crocodile, but most wild dogs are killed by food competitors. While they are often not even been eaten. Lions and hyenas are responsible therefor. While a large pack manages to expel lions or hyenas or even kill them. But the group size and efficient collaboration is the determining factor here.

Humans as biggest threat

Foto: © Peter van der Leer

The real threat is mainly shaped by man in many indirect capacities. The shredding of suitable habitat, road casualties, disease transmission through house dogs, killed in snares of poachers put for illegal bushmeat. And the perish induced by the eating of poisoned bait in the context of predator control programs. In addition, problems can arise when a pack of wild dogs starts hunting husbandry. The human-related threats are countless. An increasing demand for wild, can also go impair its food base. This seems not the biggest problem, also trade in wild dogs or skins still plays no major role. Nevertheless, if something suddenly chances, it can have a huge impact at rare species. Africa has been known for its large army of professional poachers, by extinction of one species they will easily switch to another one.


Through various initiatives, protective measures are realized, but the large operating scale to offer wild dogs their natural habitat requirements, makes it difficult to obtain significant results. The numbers are alarmingly low in various subpopulations. For over twenty years, the species listed as endangered on the IUCN red list and in general we don’t succeed to improve its situation. Despite local successes such as in Zimbabwe. There, the whole issue has been mapped and they are systematically working at both sides. Protection and education of the population and the possibility for the population to earn some money in the protection program. It also provides support in addition to the economic basis for acceptance and change. They hardly cannot work quick enough to save this species from extinction.
Once again, because the sociality of the species makes it a unique animal from which we can still learn a lot, even from an ecological viewpoint.


NABCS likes to support everything what is possible, but under current unsafe conditions we are not able to operate in the region where the last wild dogs in North Africa may or may not occur. Any change of this situation, will trigger our response promptly


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