African Wild Dogs / Lycaon Pictus
The wild dog weighs between 17 - 36 kg (37 - 79 lb). It is generally found in plains and open woodland, although it has been found in a variety of other habitats from the Sahara Desert up into the lower forests of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Most prey species weigh between 20 - 90 kg (44 - 200 lb), but animals as small as cane rats and as large as greater kudu have been reported in the diet. The dominant prey species varies according to the most abundant prey species in the area. Dominant prey species in various areas include Thomson's gazelle, wildebeest, impala, duiker and reedbuck. These dogs are similar in size and shape to medium-large domestic dogs, but they are only distantly related to other canids. Their mottled coloring and large rounded ears make them unmistakable. The muzzle is black and the forehead has a black line in the middle of it. The large head resembles that of a hyena. Legs are long and slender. The feet have only four toes, and no dewclaws. The tail has a white plume at the tip. No two dogs have identical coat patterns of white, black and tan; yet close relatives are recognizably similar in coloration. The body length is about 40 inches with a 12-16 inch tail. Animals weigh a maximum of 66 pounds. Males are slightly larger than females, and animals from Southern Africa are slightly larger than their northern relatives.
African wild dogs live in packs that are usually dominated by a monogamous breeding pair. The female has a litter of 2 to 20 pups, which are cared for by the entire pack. These dogs are very social, and packs have been known to share food and to assist weak or ill members. Social interactions are common, and the dogs communicate by touch, actions, and vocalizations.
African wild dogs live in tightly knit social groups and hunt cooperatively, preying primarily on grazing animals such as gazelles, springboks, wildebeest and zebras. Most predators stalk or ambush their prey, but these animals make no attempt to hide. They simply approach a herd until it stampedes, then single out an individual -- usually one that's slowed by old age or disease -- and chase it until it's exhausted. The dogs are swift, tireless runners. They've been known to chase prey for an hour, for as far as three and a half miles (5.6 km).
For most of the year, wild dogs roam around over the plains and in the bush, usually not staying in the same place for more than a day. Hunts take place in the morning and early evening. Prey is apparently located by sight, approached silently, and then pursued at speeds of up to 66 km/hr (41 mph) for up to one hour. Pack members generally cooperate in hunting large mammals, but individuals sometimes pursue hares, rodents, or other small animals. The daytime is spent sleeping, usually in the shade of a tree or near water, with members of the pack lying very close together. Once a year the pack occupies a den for 2 - 3 months, to bear young. The den is usually an abandoned aardvark hole. African Wild Dogs are very social animals that live in packs of 5-20 individuals; rarely as many as 60. They fill the ecological role or niche of the wolf in Africa. One of the most efficient of all predators, they do not hesitate to attack small hares or large zebras. They specialize in preying on medium-sized antelope including Thomson's gazelle, impala, kob, lechwe and springbok. This species does not hunt in relays but rather depends on endurance that is greater than their prey. They can run at about 35 m.p.h. for 3 miles or more. They hunt mainly around dawn and dusk because they rely on sight when hunting. The pack will hunt at least once a day. If there are youngsters present at the kill, the adults will allow them to eat first unlike lions. They do not defend territories except in the vicinity of occupied dens. Only the dominant breeding pair urine mark. There is very little overt aggression among pack members. The social arrangement is extraordinary because they are the exact opposite of those in most other social mammals such as lions and elephants.
The African wild dog is listed by the IUCN as threatened by extinction. They are nearly as endangered as the black rhino and they are still persecuted by farmers and hunters. Fewer than 5,000 dogs remain and because they need vast home ranges, it makes conservation difficult. They are faced with shrinking room to roam in their African home. They are also quite susceptible to diseases spread by domestic animals. A century ago, African wild dog packs numbering a hundred or more animals could be seen roaming the Serengeti Plains. Today, pack size averages about 10, and the total population on the Serengeti is probably less than 60 dogs.