The critically endangered African wild dog is one of the continent's most prolific predators.
Wild dogs are the only dog species of Africa that predominantly hunt for food. They have a very unique fur pattern that covers their body. Beautiful shades of brown, white, black and tan look like they have been painted over a blank canvas in a chaotically precise manor, no two dogs having the same exact pattern. Their distinct coat has given rise to another popular by which they go, Painted Dogs. They typically weigh between 20 and 25kg among both sexes, roughly the same size as a slightly below average sized Labrador retriever. They are taller off the ground than one might think, but their lean build contributes to their light weight.
The range in which Wild Dogs are distributed has greatly decreased over the past decades. Their once wide distribution has been pressed back into scattered areas of Africa in countries that include central Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Cameroon and other parts of more central Equatorial Africa. In Southern Africa the Kruger National park is their last stronghold and the only place they can naturally be found, although there may be a hand full of privately owned farms which may also have Wild Dogs living on. They are more comfortable in areas where their vision can be used to hunt and their strength in numbers and excellent hunting strategies can be put to the test.
Many of Africa’s carnivores in particular have been threatened by increasing habitat loss, the decrease in prey populations and over-hunting, and the Wild Dog is arguably the most harmed species of the club. They are one of the most heavily endangered species in the world and will continue to decrease from their already depleted populations estimated in the low thousands. Many conservation programs are in the process of helping the species find their feet again and get off the slippery slope that ends at extinction. The Kruger National Park management and conservation projects are part of this struggle, protecting the only South African Wild Dogs left.
Wild dogs are very unbothered by the vegetation and climate of the habitat in which they live, instead they are typical predators and go where the prey takes them. Open grassland plains usually have the largest supply of antelope at around 50kg in weight, a comfortable size for Wild Dogs, but also where there is a larger supply predators, who always demand prey, and are thus in direct competition with this struggling species. Lowland Forest areas and floodplains also see Wild dogs in their midst, although this might not be as frequent. Semi-desert and montane environments are some of the many areas these animals have struggled to establish or anchor themselves in as a dominant predatory force.
Wild dogs are pack animals out and out and form groups consisting of a handful of individuals to near a hundred in some areas, but overall they average at 6 adults per pack. They move all the time and have very large home ranges. They are led by a mating pair who, and have additional non-breeding males and females who assist in hunting and raising young and also take advantage of the work they do with remuneration in the form of a steadier and larger food supply. The leading pair makes decisions like which prey to go after and where to move to as well as keeping other pack members in order.
Hunting, the sport, pride, survival, passion and talent of the African Wild Dog and because of all this also what take up most of their time. They are so cruel yet effective in their hunting that they sometimes start eating their prey while still on the chase. In areas with large populations of game these animals eat like Kings, with daily breakfasts and suppers feasted on at roughly the same time of the day. This doesn’t however occur in every area in which they can be found. Furthermore females in the group look after, groom and feed pups while also fighting for higher group rankings in which they bite and shove each other. The dominant pair also marks the territory of the pack through urination defecation and also the use of scent glands.
The supreme pair of the pack start their mating courtship when the female goes into heat, which is when the male protects and keeps her away from the other males in the pack while frequently resting his head on her back and rump. She then urinates and scent marks the spot where they will mate, and he follows by doing the same. They then copulate for between 1 and 6 minutes and sometimes also vocalize as they do so. Her initial days of pregnancy are roughly 69 – 73 days from the day she’ll give birth to her litter or the length of her gestation period. Most births occur in the later stages of the rainy season, and mating between the pair occurs in intervals of a year to 14 months.
Wild Dogs, being predators, don’t really have any worries about being preyed upon or anything of the kind, but they do however face competition for prey by other groups of predators, most notably lions. Lions, when they choose to, can easily steal the kill made by wild dogs simply because of the huge size difference between the two, and this is why Wild Dogs eat as fast and efficiently as possible, starting before the prey is even properly dead. Spotted hyenas also take advantage of Wild Dogs and are regular scavengers or stealers of Wild Dog kills.
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