Sunday, August 5, 2018

Cape Wild Dog

The African wild dog is also known by names such as the painted wolf, African painted dog, painted hunting dog, Cape hunting dog and African hunting dog. It has become one of my favorite animals. There are five subspecies: (a) The Cape wild dog found in southern Africa with a large amount of orange/yellow fur (this is the subspecies we saw in northern Botswana); (b) East African wild dog with a dark coat and very little yellow; (c) West African wild dog found in West and Central Africa; (d) Chadian wild dog found in Chad; and (e) Somali wild dog, found in the Horn of Africa, which is smaller, shorter and has coarser fur. 
It is listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List with an estimated 6,600 adults in 39 populations, of which only 1,400 are breeding animals (the alpha male and female). Within a pack the alpha male and female are the parents of a majority of the pups. If an alpha individual dies no unrelated breeding animal is available in the pack, so death results in disintegration of the pack and no breeding occurs until a new pack is formed. 
The cause of their decline is almost entirely due to human encroachment: conflict with livestock and game farmers, accidental killing by snares and road kill and infectious diseases. I'm surprised as I look at their status in various countries in Africa and find that they are not protected very closely even in countries where there are very few, if any, left. We were told by our favorite guide, K.T., that they are reviled for how they kill their prey: they do not kill it, but rip it apart while alive. However, the kill actually ends up being more humane as the animal dies much quicker than when it is strangled by a lion or similar animal. 
The wild dog is about 24 to 30 inches high at the shoulder and weighs 44 to 55 lbs. in East Africa and up to 66 lbs. in southern Africa. Females are 3% to 7% smaller than males. Unlike other wolf/dog/jackal relatives, its fur is entirely stiff bristle hairs with no underfur. Older animals gradually lose their fur and can be nearly naked. 
There are geographic variations in color. Those that are in the northeast of Africa are mostly black with small black and yellow patches. Southern Africa wild dogs are more brightly colored with with a mixture of brown, black and white coats. Within a geographic area, color varies a lot and helps them visually identify each other. Most of the patterning is on the trunk and legs. The muzzle is black and shades into brown on the cheeks and forehead. A black line goes up the forehead. It is blackish/brown on the back of the ears. Some have a brown tear-drop shape below each eye. The back of the head and neck are either brown or yellow. There is sometimes a white patch between the forelegs and some individuals have completely white forelegs, chests and throats. The tail is usually white at the end, black in the middle and brown at the base. The coats are asymmetrical, with the pattern on one side completely different then the pattern on the other side. 
This alpha female in the Okavanga Delta has white forelegs and a white chest. 
This pack member also has a significant amount of white on the forelegs and chest. 
Here is a good view of the white tail at the end, with black and then significant brown at the base. 
It hunts during the day and can chase an animal for 10 to 60 minutes at speeds up to 41 mph. During the chase large animals are repeatedly bitten on the legs, belly and anus until it quits running. Smaller prey is pulled down and ripped apart. It eats quickly. A Thompson's gazelle can be eaten by a pack in 15 minutes. 
Northern Botswana, including the Okavanga Delta (where we saw our wild dogs), Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park, has the largest wild dog populations in Africa. In 1992 there were an estimated 42 packs containing 450 to 500 individuals in that area. 
When we visited Kadizora Camp, north of the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavanga Delta, I told our guide, K.T., that I wanted to see wild dogs. He mentioned that a group of guides in the area had scouted out and found a den of a pack of wild dog with some young pups still in the den. Our goal was to visit a red lechwe kill being used by two young leopards, then go visit the wild dogs. My hopes were severely tested when another guide said that they'd been looking for the pack for several days and not seen them - he thought they'd moved out of the area. K.T. kept waiting and waiting and I figured he'd maybe decided not to even look. But after a long round-about way to the leopard kill, then a view of hippos for lunch, we went to the vicinity of the dog den and voila, there we found the entire pack sleeping in the grass near the den after a successful morning hunt. 
First we spent time looking at the younger pack members, just yards away from them. Then we found the alpha male in the grass and finally the alpha female, all by herself, in the grass. 
Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe is another area with relatively healthy populations of wild dogs and I'd hoped we could see some there. 
We did see some signs for wild dogs. 
Unfortunately we did not, but our last day our camp (The Hide) arranged for us to make a short visit to the Painted Dog Conservation visitor center in Hwange and we got a short tour of the visitor hall and the rehabilitation center where they had one female wild dog that we got to see.  

The captive female. Note the black stripe up her forehead and white foreleg. 
The light is nice for showing the orange in her coat. The surroundings also show how effective the coat is as camouflage. Note the white on the tip of the tail. 

1 comment:

  1. A highlight of the trip--an experience we probably could not repeat no matter how hard we tried. It was amazing to be just yards from a whole pack, and to have them be so lazy. It was a perfect Kodak moment.