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African Wild Dogs - The Best Team in Africa

African Wild Dogs - The Best Team in Africa

African Wild Dogs - The Best Team in Africa
Grant Atkinson

The African wild dog is the ultimate team player. Living in social groups called packs, a wild dog is completely dependent upon its pack. In the same way that a single football player cannot score a goal, a single wild dog cannot hunt and breed successfully. And like a successful football team, a pack of wild dogs works as a unit, communicating effectively, with no one animal dominating the hunt.

Wild dogs are a unique species in a unique genus – they are not domestic dogs gone wild. The scientific name Lycaon pictus means ‘painted wolf’ and like many animals that humans do not completely understand, the species has many common names: painted wolf, painted dog, Cape hunting dog, are just a few that are still used today.

Lycaon or ‘painted’ comes from the colouration of wild dogs’ coats. Each individual is unique, similar to a fingerprint, a mosaic of tawny, black and white. The end of the tail is always white, to help them follow each other through thick bush during a chase.

There is huge variation in coat colour in different parts of Africa and it can be argued that the Zambezi catchment area has the most beautiful wild dogs, with lots more tawny and white compared to those in East Africa, which are much darker. But then perhaps I am biased to my part of the world!

Until very recently, possibly the last five years, wild dogs have suffered from a common misconception that they are cruel hunters that decimate wildlife populations. As a result most people viewed them with distaste and were quite happy that they were often destroyed as vermin.

Thanks to the dedication of a few conservation biologists, the image of the species has changed. Wild dogs are magnificent animals worthy of our respect and attention. They are unique (there is no other animal closely related); extremely successful hunters (observing a wild dog pack hunt is like watching a well trained army unit); dedicated families (each pack works together to bring up the pups); and adaptable (wild dogs can live at elevations between sea level and  2 500 metres, in thick forests and in arid lands).

But we could still lose these animals. We know of less than 1 000 packs remaining in the whole of Africa, and the species has disappeared from over 85% of its former range. The Zambezi catchment area presents our greatest hope for their continued survival. This part of Africa holds more than 40% of the remaining wild dog population. From Malawi’s Kasungu National Park to the Tete province of Mozambique, across to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, into Chobe in Botswana and ending up on the edge of Etosha, there is a corridor of habitat where the African wild dog can live and breed for many years to come.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 11, Dec 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:

Read more about African wild dog from the Zambezi Traveller:
African Wild Dogs - The Best Team in Africa
The Hwange painted dog project
Protecting wild dog in Luangwa
Zambezi key to African wild dog’s future
Wild dog – the picture in Zambia
The African Wild Dog
Building Boundaries with Scent