Endangered Species Profile: The African Wild Dog

I’ll occasionally be posting about the endangered species’ that are less commonly covered. Some of them might not seem as fascinating as the Snow Leopard or as majestic as the Blue Whale, but the truth is it doesn’t matter if an animal is beautiful or ugly, mysterious or well understood. Every link in the ecosystem needs to be preserved. In the first part of this mini-series, I present to you the African Wild Dog:

Lycaon pictus

Lycaon pictus

The African Wild Dog, or Lycaon pictus , is currently the most endangered predator in Africa. These close relatives of wolves and domesticated dogs are relatively small and compact compared to some of their larger relatives, averaging somewhere between forty and eighty pounds on average, and standing twenty-three to thirty inches at the shoulder. As opposed to domesticated dog’s five toes, L. pictus has only four on each paw. Their fur is a striking mixture of black, white and yellow, and the pattern these patches create are completely unique to each individual, like fingerprints.

An incredibly efficient hunter, the African Wild Dog has teeth and jaws adapted for eating large quantities of bone. When prey is taken, it is consumed completely. The endurance of L. pictus is remarkable even for a predator, packs hunt by chasing their prey to exhaustion and then going in for the kill, sometimes running their quarry for several miles before it becomes to exhausted to continue. However, its the African Wild Dog’s remarkable level of intelligence which makes it most deadly.

These cunning canines use unique high-pitched vocalizations to communicate during the hunt. The African Wild Dog is capable of attacking large prey in a highly coordinated manner, with different pack members attacking different vulnerable body parts in concert. Scientists suspect that this strategy may be a learned behavior. Zebras, antelope, gazelles, and warthogs are all commonly hunted, and three-fourths of all hunts result in a kill. (Compare to Lions, for which the rate is somewhere around 1/3) Feeding begins while the prey is still alive.

A highly social animal in general, they posses a social structure that appears to be unique among canines. Both a male and female alpha exist in the pack, and they each have authority over their respective sex. Among the African Wild Dog domination is not the preferred method of establishing rank. Instead of wasting valuable energy by fighting amongst themselves, pack members willingly submit to those higher in the social organization than themselves. In this regard, they are clearly superior to many other species on our planet.

The African Wild Dog's range

The African Wild Dog's range

Currently, approximately 5,000-6,000 African Wild Dogs are thought to be living in the wild. At one point in time packs could grow as large as 100 members, but now rarely exceed ten. The primary reasons for this species’ decline is habitat loss, disease transmission from domesticated dogs, and being hunted as “pests” by local farmers.

You can see footage of this fascinating animal here.

If you would like to learn more or get involved with conservancy, check out:

The African Wild Dog Conservancy
African Wildlife Foundation’s African Wild Dog Page
The African Wild Dog: Natural History Notebooks
The American Natural History Museum’s African Wild Dog Page

(The above pages were used for all research, images taken from Wikimedia commons)

~Rz

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~ by ethmgallagher on March 25, 2009.

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