7 Fascinating Facts About African Wild Dogs, aka ‘Painted Wolves’
Usually dogs are associated as beloved pets who have adored traits of loyalty, obedience and affection. But the African Wild dog is a vastly different breed that thrives in the desert and open plains of sub-saharan Africa. The Latin name for the African Wild dog means “painted wolf” and this is a well-deserved name as no two wild dogs have the same markings, which makes them easily identifiable as individuals. These predators are highly intelligent and key to maintaining natural balance in the environment as they eliminate weak and sick animals. Despite the tired stereotype of these dogs being “cruel butchers,” kinship and sharing is key to their survival. Yet the African wild dog population is struggling to survive as habitat encroachment and changing environment threaten their way of life. We had a difficult time narrowing down our favorite fascinating facts on the African wild dog, but here are our top seven.
- Most Efficient Hunters: These canines can cover vast distances at speeds up to 35 miles per hour. When a leader tires during a hunt, kinship is key as others take over and close in on the prey. They boast an 80% hunting success rate, attributed to the social coordination and teamwork of the pack. While their prey succumbs to a bloody attack as the dogs tear the flesh until the animal falls, there is no aggression within the pack, only cooperation. Wild dogs are efficient hunters because of this strategic cooperation and elaborate communication through barks, rallying howls, and bell-like contact calls.
- Constant Wanderers: Wild dogs are constantly on the move—their typical home range can cover 1,500 square kilometers, which is equivalent to the size of Greater London. This is a main factor to vanishing populations, as 1,500 square kilometers can really only support one or two African wild dog packs. If there is a newborn, the dogs will limit their travelling and hunting to areas closer to the den.
- Group Effort to Care for Pups: The altruistic social structure of these dogs is crucial for when a litter of pups are born. Pups are fed by dogs regurgitating fresh meat and getting first choice of the kill from a hunt. All members of the pack care for pups, even the alphas.
- Bonding Ceremony: The dogs have a peculiar, rather playful ceremony that bonds them for a common purpose and initiates each hunt. They start circulating among the other pack members, vocalizing and touching until they get excited and are ready to hunt.
- Once Considered a “Pest”: Although once considered a “pest,” the African wild dog has become a symbol of pride in Zimbabwe. Thanks to efforts by local communities and NGO’s the wild population in Zimbabwe has almost doubled in recent years.
- Endangered Populations: Today, only about 5,000 African wild dogs remain, and humans are the biggest reason. Farmers shoot dogs and track down dens, poisoning the dogs inside. Poachers’ snares impact their habitat and food availability. Diseases such as rabies from domesticated animals can easily wipe out the entire pack with just one wild dog infected because of their highly social nature.
- Impressive Physique: Their mottled fur with black, brown, yellow and white colorings makes each dog easy to spot and identify, a key element to the social cohesion of a dog pack. Specialized molars give strength to their powerful bite which is instrumental for shearing meat, breaking bone and feeding the young. Keen senses of sight, smell and hearing enable the dogs to hunt efficiently while also knowing one another’s location at all times. Their large rounded ears are lined with muscles that the dogs can swivel, like radar dishes, picking up the minutest of sounds. Their lean build, long legs, and quick muscle recovery enhances their impressive endurance and physical prowess. And they only have four toes on each paw!
If you want to see African wild dogs in the wild, check out our Botswana Explorer Safari, where you’ll visit remote private wildlife reserves in the company of a renowned Natural Habitat Expedition Leader.