You just cannot imagine how exciting it was to see this animal loping towards us as we cruised down a quiet back road early one morning. In this particular sighting the rest of the pack were sweeping through the bush on our right and were only visible from the blurred flash of their white tail tips.
For those who love Africa, the bush and the challenge of searching out the rarer animals, the African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) is often top of the list. This beautiful, efficient animal is considered to be the most endangered of the large African predators. In Kruger National Park (their last remaining natural range in South Africa) their numbers have varied from only 170 to 220. We can go for months without seeing them.
|Warming up for the morning hunt|
Persecuted for many years by both farmers and game wardens, the African Wild Dog is mistaken by many for a feral domestic dog. It is not. It is a naturally evolved African predator and considered by most researchers to be the most efficient hunter of the "top 5" predators (the others are lion, hyaena, leopard, cheetah).
|The morning hunt begins.....|
Generally, the preferred prey for the African Wild Dog are small to medium sized antelope (all those impala in Kruger!) and as they don't have an impressive armoury of teeth, claws and strength, they utilise their incredible stamina to chase their intended prey to an exhausted halt before dispatching them quickly in a frenzy of bites and limbs pulled apart.
Meat, rapidly gulped down is later regurgitated on demand for pups and sick or infirm adult dogs left behind the hunt.
As with the cheetah, Wild Dog hunt mostly during daylight, early morning and late afternoon. This means that if one is very fortunate to come across a pack hunting along one of the roads, then one is more likely to witness a successful kill than with any of the other predators.
A pause for water during the hunt.
The social structure of an African Wild Dog pack is similar to that of wolves, with a monogamous alpha male and female pair-bond, and the rest of the adult pack members assisting with the raising of the alpha females litter which can number between 10 to 16 pups! Unusually, male dogs tend to stay with their natal pack, with the females emigrating to other packs when the opportunity arises.
Resting during the heat of the day.
Based on their effective pack structure, social habits and efficient hunting methods it is still something of a mystery why the Wild Dog numbers continue to decline, even in the large conservation areas. They are susceptible to many domestic dog-borne diseases but research has not shown this to be a major cause of death.
Whatever the cause for their dwindling numbers, the fact remains that they can be very hard to find in the larger African conservation areas, and are eagerly sought after by those who care for the African wilderness.
1. Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa (2007) - Chris & Tilde Stuart
2. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals - Richard Despard Estes
3. Beat About the Bush Mammals (2006) - Trevor Carnaby