African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus)  


Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family:    Canidae
Size:    Length: 30 to 44 inches (76 to 112 cm)
Weight: 37 to 79 pounds (17 to 36 kg)
Diet: Impalas, duikers, gazelles, antelope, and occasionally wildebeest and zebras
Distribution: Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa
Young:  Up to 21 pups per year
Animal Predators:  Lions, hyenas and leopards
IUCN Status: Endangered
Terms: Young: Pup
Lifespan: 4 years in the wild and up to 12 years in captivity



·       The African wild dog is Africa’s most endangered carnivore.

·       Their scientific name, Lycaon pictus, means “painted wolf,” for their coloured markings.

·       They are also known as the “cape hunting dog” or the “African hunting dog.”

·       Packs are usually made up of more males than females.

·       The African wild dog never scavenges, no matter how fresh the kill.



Various splotches of red, brown, black, yellow and white make up African wild dogs’ coats. Each of these dogs has a different pattern of colours. Males and females are approximately the same size and are similar in appearance. The tips of their tail is usually white. They have short fur, and their skin is black underneath.  



African wild dogs were once abundant throughout the entire continent of Africa, except in deep jungle or desert areas. They are now quite rare, and only live in scattered packs in isolated grasslands and woodlands in Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa. 


Feeding Habits

They mostly prey on animals such as impalas, duikers, gazelles and antelope, but will occasionally go for larger prey such as wildebeest or zebras, if they find old, sick or injured individuals. When they spot prey, African wild dogs simply chase it until it tires or until they can bring it down physically. 



Within each pack there is a dominant breeding pair—these individuals, an alpha male and female, are the only dogs that mate and they remain monogamous for life. The alpha female goes through a pregnancy of approximately 10 weeks, then gives birth in a den or burrow lined with grass. The size of the litter is usually quite large, ranging from two to 21 pups, with 12 to 16 being the average. The pups stay in the den with the mother for approximately one month before they come out and meet the rest of the pack. During this period, the dogs, which are usually nomadic, stick to the area in which the pups were born. Once the pups come out of the den, the entire pack shares the responsibility of taking care of them—guarding them from harm, playing with them and bringing back food for them and their mother after a kill. The pups are weaned when they reach five to 12 weeks, and when they are three months old, they begin to go along on the hunts. Most young dogs leave the pack between two and three years of age, although they do not begin to reproduce until much later. 



African wild dogs are extremely social animals and once roamed in packs of up to 100 individuals. However, with the decrease in population, their packs are now much smaller, ranging up to no more than 40 members, and usually only up to 15.  These dogs are non-territorial, and need large, open areas in which to roam and hunt. Unlike many other members of the dog family, these wild dogs are unique in that they do not have a hierarchy to indicate which members can eat first. They all eat equally and there is no aggression between the members of the pack during feeding. They also bring back food for nursing females, their young, and elderly, sick or injured members.



Humans have long feared African wild dogs and have gone to much effort to eliminate them, putting out poison, traps and shooting them, even though these dogs are shy of humans and try to avoid them. Urban development due to the increasing human population has taken over much of the land where these animals once lived. Their numbers have been reduced to less than 5,000 individuals. There are two projects currently underway in Africa that utilize global positioning systems and DNA analysis to track and study wild dog biology. The information gained from this research will be used to conserve and increase the wild dog population. 



African Wild Dog Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US