Blog #6 – The Painted dogs of Africa

The African Wild dog aka “Lycaon Pictus” which translates to “painted wolf” has always fascinated me. I’ve lost count of the amount of documentaries I’ve watched about them, there is something so similar to our own domesticated dogs but yet so different and natural about them.

They are definitely one of my favourite wild animals. They are built for the job and made to last as we say and if they had been created by men, I would have put good money on it that they would have been made by German scientists. A pack of African Wild Dogs are like a well oiled machine, built by one of the many reliable German motoring manufacturers.

When you delve deeper into the species you see that they are are in a separate evolutionary group all together from wolves and dogs, which completely contradicts what their Latin and English names would suggest. However, what they do have in common with other canid species is the pack mentality and the hierarchy that they have in place within their pack. Each pack has a dominant male and female and only they will generally produce pups as they will always attempt to prevent subordinate members from breeding.

There is currently somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 African Wild dogs in the wild, 100 years ago it’s believed that there was over 1 million. The huge decrease in numbers has been caused, as normal, by mankind taking land and looking at the species as vermin and killing them in high numbers. In the past, packs with 100 members was rare but not unheard of. Today, a large pack would have between 30 and 40 members, whilst the average size of a pack is between 7 and 15.

One of the most interesting facts when comparing them with other canids is that they only have four toes per foot and 40 teeth, whilst the majority of other canid species have five toes per foot and 42 teeth. They could not be bred to wolves or dogs and despite many humans over the years trying to domesticate them, they have never succeeded as they are naturally suspicious of anything and anyone that is not one of their own.

They are considered “nomads” and will travel vast regions moving around from one place to another. They can reach speeds of over 35 miles an hour and have one of the highest hunting percentage ratings of all predators in Africa with a kill rate of around 80%.

African Wild dogs are cooperative hunters and hunt in packs led by the alpha male or female in the morning or early evening. There’s stories of adults regurgitating meals and then rolling around in their own vomit to mask their scent, to avoid being detected by their prey during hunts. Their main asset and most recognisable feature is of course their rather large round ears which look like two huge satellite dishes on the top of their heads. They have a double purpose of helping them to scan the surrounding area for prey but also for any unwanted visitors and they also help to keep them cool in the extremely hot climate of Africa.

There is a total of five subspecies of African Wild dog’s; Cape Wild Dog, East African Wild dog, West African Wild Dog, Chad Wild Dog and Somali Wild Dog however, there are records of intermixing between some of them. There numbers seem to increase and decrease depending on how well or bad the Lion populations are doing in and around the areas they go to and from. Lions are their main predator as they look at them as competitors for food and not prey.

They are in my opinion one of the most formidable and complete animals in the world, up there with the very best. I always want nature to take its course and what will be will be as mother nature works in its own way. I just hope that man stays well away and doesn’t play anymore of a negative hand in this truly amazing species that’s so close, yet so far from our own four legged canines.

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