African Wild Dogs Facts | Neat African Wild Dogs Facts
African Wild Dogs Facts
The African wild dog is one of the most endangered canids in the world, with only about 3000 to 4000 left in the wild. As with all endangered species, we may wonder how its populations declined and what can we do to stop further loss. I hope this article will shed some light on this very complex species and its problems.
African Wild Dogs Facts – Physical Characteristics
African wild dogs have a striking patchwork coat of black, tan, brown, gray, and white. They almost always have white tail tips and some form of black “mask” on their faces, which is framed by their large, rounded ears. Their long-legs and light, waspish bodies make them well-suited for traveling long distances and chasing prey. They range from 30-44 inches (76-112 cm) in height and from 37-79 lbs. (17-36 kg) in weight. Observers sometimes mistake wild dogs for hyenas due to their broad heads and short, powerful muzzles.
African Wild Dogs Facts – Social Characteristics
Wild dogs live in packs composed of related males and one to several related females. Years ago packs contained as many as 40 or 50 members; today, packs have only about 20 members at most and average 6 to 8. Unlike many species, females 18 months of age and older leave their packs in hopes of finding a mate in another pack. This migration helps maintain genetic diversity. Only one pair of dogs in a pack, the alpha pair, breeds.
African Wild Dogs Facts – Pups
Because wild dog litters are usually very large (up to 16 pups), feeding and raising them becomes a group effort for all adult and older juvenile dogs. Until pups can hunt with the group, pack members on the hunt will bring back portions of each day’s kills for the lactating mother and other wild dogs that have stayed behind to guard the den or baby-sit with the mother. The easiest way for wild dogs to carry large amounts of food over great distances is in their stomachs; thus, they regurgitate the food for pups and non-hunting pack members upon their return. The pack has numerous greeting ceremonies and hunting “pep” rallies and all members of the pack enjoy playing with the pups. Imagine an extended family of aunts and uncles all participating in child rearing duties and you will have an idea of life in a wild dog pack.
African Wild Dogs Facts – Eating Habits
One of the most unusual sights in a wild dog pack is the lack of aggression at a kill. Virtually no fighting occurs; it is almost a contest to see who can be the most submissive. Unlike wolves and lions, wild dogs allow the aged, young, and sick equal access to a kill. If the healthy adults have not satisfied their hunger with that kill, they simply hunt again.
African Wild Dogs Facts – Hunting
What Wild Dogs Eat and How they Hunt: African wild dogs usually eat small impala (Aepyceros melampus) and gazelle (Subfamily: Antilopini), though they also hunt reebuck (Redunca arundinum), kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus, and even zebra (Equus burchelli). The pack hunts as group, chasing down the target and changing leaders as each becomes tired. In many instances one dog will grab the nose of the animal while others attack the soft underbelly, usually killing the prey fairly swiftly. Because wild dogs are smaller hunters, they must eat their kill quickly since lions and large hyena packs often chase them from the kill.
African Wild Dogs Facts – Den
They den only once a year, usually during the rainy season when game is plentiful. Otherwise, they constantly move about, with home ranges ranging from 180 to 540 square miles (500-1500 sq. km)! If prey abounds and local lion populations are low, home ranges may fall on the smaller end of this scale. In areas with higher wild dog population densities, home ranges may overlap. Movements of this truly nomadic species makes accurate counting very difficult.
African Wild Dogs Facts – History
Populations of wild dogs once lived in all of southern and western Africa below the Sahara desert, but now viable populations (more than 50 dogs) exist in only 8 African countries: Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Namibia, and possibly Kenya. Although people have spotted wild dogs in other countries, their numbers are too small to become anything more than a passing statistic; many countries have had only one or two packs in the last decade. In many of the countries listed above, national parks are taking an active role in protecting wild dogs, although this can be a monumental task given the large home ranges these animals need.
African Wild Dogs Facts – Endangered
As much as I would like to attribute the decline of African wild dogs to some environmental extreme, I must blame human actions, direct and indirect, for their low numbers. In the 1920s when big-game hunting was becoming more popular in Africa, hunters considered wild dogs a threat to game species and exterminated them on sight. They were seen as a wanton killer with none of the “noble” traits of the big cats. In later years and in present day, agriculture and livestock grazing have taken over much of the savannah that used to be home to native grazers. To keep wild dogs from hunting their livestock, farmers have set out poisoned baits (and still do in some areas).
African Wild Dogs Facts – Livestock
Wild dogs have never been a real threat to domestic livestock, preferring native prey and areas unpopulated by humans. Other domestic animals introduced a whole host of foreign diseases like rabies, distemper, parvovirus, and anthrax, all of which have taken a heavy toll on the already beleaguered wild dogs. Due to frequent contact among pack members for play and greeting, rabies or distemper can kill a whole pack within days. Unfortunately, wild dogs do not respond to current canine vaccines; however, programs have begun that promote vaccination of domestic animals near national parks (especially now that lions, too, have become threatened by distemper).
African Wild Dogs Facts – Education
Education has lifted public awareness and has dispelled myths about wild dogs and the way they live and feed. Everywhere that wild dogs have been studied, populations have remained stable and in some instances are growing. Zoos have started adding them to their collections to help maintain genetic diversity if they should become totally lost in the wild. All these programs require money and Africa is a poor continent. Their resources are stretched to the maximum. Money is needed for education, scientific studies, and for protecting land in large enough tracts so that a true diversity of life can live there without having to go out of protected areas. One of the most immediate things you can do is to donate much-needed dollars to one of the many groups that are working to rescue endangered species and prevent the decline of others. Although this piece has focused on wild dogs, it could be about any one of the species threatened by our collective lack of understanding or concern. One by one, species large and small, homely or handsome, are becoming only spectacles at a zoo or glossy pictures of what once was.
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