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African Wild Dog Facts

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Taxonomy Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus/Species: Lycaon pictus
Coat Coloration and Pattern: Distinct mottled coat of yellow, black, white, and brown giving each dog it’s own specific pattern, defining identity.
Head and Body Length: 35-50 inches
Weight: 35-80 lbs, average 55 lbs
Shoulder Height: 27-35 inches
Time of Mating: Geographically variable
Gestation Length: 69-73 days
Litter Sizes: 2-21 (average of 6-9)
Age of Sexual Maturity: One year, but sexual suppression results in later age of reproduction
Habitat Variable: dense bush and forests to open plains
Predator/Prey Diet: Varies geographically: impala, kudu, duiker, gazelle, and wildebeest
Foraging: Hunts cooperatively in packs, experienced individuals can bring down prey on their own

African Wild Dog Social Behavior

African Wild Dogs live in packs, comprised of related females, related males, and pups, with a very unique social structure. Pack sizes usually range from 6-20 animals but have been observed with numbers as high as 27 and as low as 2. Pack sizes that fall below 6 have trouble hunting successfully and pack sizes exceeding 20 usually break apart to form new packs.

New packs are formed when groups of sisters or brothers emigrate together and join opposite-sex groups, however, field observations suggest that not all combinations of groups are compatible. If two groups merge and find that they are unable to ‘get along’ the groups will separate and continue searching for a opposite sexed group to form a pack with. When a group of brothers meets successfully with a group of sisters, the pack will begin to reproduce.

Reproduction

Reproduction is seasonal in most regions. When new packs form, the alpha pair may not mate immediately. Within the pack, usually only the dominant pair breeds while other members of the pack assist in caring for the pups. The role pack members play is not fixed. Babysitters can and do go hunting. Occasionally, in very large packs, more than one female will reproduce. When the appropriate season arrives (depending on geography) the breeding female will select a den, usually below ground. Once the pups are born, the mother will be confined to the den for lactation while the other members of the pack will take on different roles to ensure highest level of survival for the pups. Each member of the pack take on a different role. Some members of the pack are responsible for looking after the pups and keeping them safe from predators while other members of the pack are responsible for hunting. While the mother is confined to the den during early lactation, food is presented to her, and later pups, by regurgitation. The pups remain at the den site for 10-12 weeks. After 3 months, when the pups are ready to leave the den, the pack will resume their nomadic way and begin to teach the pups to hunt.

Hunting

African Wild Dogs are crepuscular, resting during the day and hunting primarily in the early morning and evening. They are one of Africa’s most successful hunters, with a diet that varies based on the geography but includes: impala, kudu, duiker, gazelle, and wildebeest. The success of these predators is due to their high degree of cooperation although experienced adults are capable of hunting prey on their own. African Wild Dogs are thought of as vicious killers as many times they begin consuming their prey before it has died. This type of behavior may prejudice people against them; however, unlike most groups of carnivores, African Wild Dogs do not show aggression towards each other during hunting and feeding. The defined social hierarchy of these animals is so defined that there is very little intimidation displayed.

Distribution

Wild dogs were once widely distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Today, the most viable populations exist in southern African in countries such as Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Their dramatic decline has been due to human persecution, habitat loss, decline in prey species, and disease such as rabies and distemper. Because of the nomadic nature of these animals, it is impossible to determine the exact number and location of the remaining populations. (Map)