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AFRICA’S PAINTED WOLVES

Protecting Wild Dogs

“Suddenly they were there, lean, ghost-like shapes in the moonlight with Mickey Mouse ears; wearing their dappled coats of black, tan and gold, like ink spots on blotting paper.”

– AN EXTRACT FROM ‘SHADOWS IN THE FOREST’ BY CD MCCLELLAND –

African Wild Dogs are one of the continent’s more enigmatic species in comparison to the iconic species, like the Big Five, giraffe and zebra. However, they are one of the most endangered of Africa’s species. In fact, they are one of the most endangered mammal species on the planet.

They once roamed Africa in numbers of nearly half a million, but today, there are only around 3,000 left, 39 distinct populations on the whole continent. These surviving packs live in woodlands and savannah in southern and eastern Africa –you can spot them in Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana –if you’re lucky.

Anyone who has been privileged enough to see these wonderful creatures on a safari is likely to consider it one of their most special and memorable sightings.

Despite their critical endangered status, there comes hope in the form of the organisations, individuals and communities that have committed themselves to the conservation of the painted wolves.

WHY PAINTED WOLVES?


The Latin name of the African Wild Dog is Lycaon pictus. This directly translates to ‘painted wolf’ which refers to their unique coats of mottled black, white, brown and yellow fur. Each dog’s colouring is unique, like the stripes of a zebra or the fingerprints of a human.

WHAT MAKES THEM SO FASCINATING?


SOCIAL STRUCTURES
As with the natural way of dogs, African Wild Dogs live in packs. These packs can range from an average of 7to 15 members to a rather formidable 40 members. Before their decline in population, there used to packs of up 100 roaming the continent.
However, within these packs, the social structure differs to that of other canine groups. There is an alpha breeding pair but there is little intimidation, aggression and conflict within the social hierarchy. The entire pack cooperates in caring for their wounded, sick and older members –those who are too ill, old or injured to hunt.
African Wild Dog packs are matriarchal. Female wild dogs are often larger than the males. The pack usually hunts together. However, when an alpha female has a litter of pups, a small group of adult males will usually remain at the den with her while a female hunting party will set out to bring back food.
One of the most unique examples of this matriarchal society is that small groups of young females will leave the pack to form a new pack or join an existing pack. The majority of young males stay with their original pack their entire lives. This is rather remarkable, as with most other wildlife we see the males leaving their pack.
A recent study by academics from Swansea, Australia and the United States has even suggested that there is a possibility that wild dogs vote on whether or not to embark on a hunt by sneezing –this would suggest that they are democratic in nature! This example of canine democracy is the first of its kind to be identified in any predator species and is another wonderful reminder of how remarkable the world’s wildlife are.
HUNTING STYLE
African Wild Dogs are some of nature’s most formidable and efficient hunters. Lions have a 30% hunting success rate. Wild dogs have an 80% hunting success rate. Their prey can include zebra and wildebeest –animals that are up to 10 times the size of an individual dog. Their success is attributed to their ability to work together-packs are extremely close knit and the harmony that comes from this allows them to hunt extremely efficiently.
DIVERSE DIET
African Wild Dogs hunt a wide variety of prey, from gazelles, other antelope, zebras and wildebeests to warthogs, rats and birds. As nature works when there is no interference, African Wild Dogs play an important role in maintaining the natural balance by eliminating sick and weak animals.

WHAT CHALLENGES DO THEY CURRENTLY FACE?


African Wild Dogs need extremely large geographical areas to sustain their populations and genetic diversity. They are constantly moving and can roam extremely far distances. It is this need for roaming space that is contributing to the decline in their population numbers

.HUMAN-WILDLIFE CONFLICT

Unfortunately, it is a sad truth that many wild animals suffer due to conflict with humans and this occurs with wild dogs too. Wild dogs have been shot or poised by farmers who blame them for deaths of livestock killed by other predators, such as leopards.

LOSS OF HABITAT

Habitat loss is currently the principal threat to African Wild Dog populations. Habitat fragmentation increases human-wildlife conflict as well as localised, small population extinction caused by epidemic disease. As human populations continue to expand and farms, roads and settlements increase, the spaces that wild dogs once used to roam freely are disappearing.

WHAT IS CURRENTY BEING DONE TO PROTECT THEM?


LAND PROTECTION

African Wild Dogs need expansive territories to survive and their survival depends on the protection of these areas. One of these protected areas is the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, KAZA. KAZA was launched in 2012 and spans political boundaries to connect critical wildlife habitat in Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. KAZA includes some of Africa’s greatest natural treasures, such as Victoria Falls and the Okavango Delta, and is home to nearly half of Africa’s elephants. It is also one of the last spaces where African Wild Dogs can freely live and roam.

There is currently a strategy for protecting Wild Dogs in KAZA which suggests that they become a flagship species for KAZA.

PREVENTING CONFLICT& ENGAGING COMMUNITIES

There are also initiatives in place which aim at reducing human-wildlife conflict by helping local communities to build livestock enclosures that protect livestock from predators and prevents wild dogs being killed in retaliation to livestock being killed.

Wild Dog conservation foundations are also engaging with community members –educating them on how to protect their local wildlife and equipping them to do so. Community members are incentivised to protect the wild dogs. Scouts from local communities are employed to monitor wild dogs, learn their movements and alert herders when wild dogs are present. Through this job creation, conservation and economic opportunity are woven together and wild dogs are protected.

MONITORING MOVEMENTS

The movements of African Wild Dogs are also monitored to help gauge population size and ensure protection measures are working. Monitoring the wild dogs also helps anticipate and prevent potential conflict with humans.

HOW CAN I CONTRIBUTE TO THEIR CONSERVATION?


There are a number of conservation organisations with programmes and projects in place that offer volunteer or donation opportunities. You can even ‘adopt’ a wild dog.

Contact us to find out more about getting involved.

INTERESTING FACTS


  • African Wild Dogs can run up to 60km per hour and maintain this speed over distances of up to 4km.
  • A pack of Wild Dog can roam over an area of 3000km2! Average home ranges tend to be in the region of 300 –800km2.
  • A female gives birth, on average, to 10 to 11 pups per litter. The pups become fully-fledged hunters at only 12 months old.
  • Unlike other members of the canine family, African Wild Dogs only have four toes, instead of five.
  • There are only five subspecies of African Wild Dog left –the Cape Wild Dog, the East African Wild Dog, the West African Wild Dog, the Chadian Wild Dog, and the Somali Wild Dog. Despite sharing a common wolf ancestor, their DNA is incompatible –it is impossible to crossbreed the different Wild Dog subspecies!

WANT TO SEE A PAINTED WOLF ON SAFARI?

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