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African wild dog facts for kids

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African painted dog
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Subfamily: Caninae
Genus: Lycaon
Binomial name
Lycaon pictus
African wild dog range

The African wild dog or Prairie dog (Lycaon pictus) is a carnivorous mammal of the Canidae family. It has a wide distribution in Africa. It is variously called the African Wild Dog, African Hunting Dog, Cape Hunting Dog, Painted Dog, Painted Wolf, Painted Hunting Dog, Spotted Dog, or Ornate Wolf.

Anatomy and reproduction

African wild dog (Lycaon pictus pictus) play fighting
Play fighting after a kill, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa

The scientific name "Lycaon pictus" is derived from the Greek for "wolf" and the Latin for "painted". It is the only canid species to lack dewclaws on the forelimbs.

Adults typically weigh 18–34 kilograms (40–75 lb). A tall, lean animal, it stands about 75 centimetres (30 in) at the shoulder, with a head and body length averaging about 100 centimetres (39 in) long with a tail of 30 to 45 centimetres (12 to 18 in). Animals in southern Africa are generally larger than those in eastern or western Africa.

Males are usually 3-7% larger. It has a total of 42 teeth. The premolars are relatively large compared with those of other canines, allowing it to consume a large quantity of bone, much like hyenas.

The African Wild Dog may reproduce at any time of year, although mating peaks between March and June during the second half of the rainy season. Litters can contain 2-19 pups. The time between births is usually 12–14 months, though it can also be as short as 6 months if all of the previous young die. The typical gestation period is approximately 70 days.

African Wild Dog
African Wild Dog pups

Pups are usually born in dens dug and abandoned by other animals, such as the Aardvark. After 3 months, the pups leave the den and begin to run with the pack. At the age of 8–11 months they are able to kill small prey, but depend on the pack kills for most of their food.

The species is unusual in that some members of the pack, including males, may be left to guard the pups whilst the others, including the mothers, join the hunting group. The practice of leaving adults behind to guard the pups may decrease hunting efficiency in smaller packs.

In 2009 at the Pittsburgh Zoo, a female mixed breed domestic dog was brought in to nurse nine African wild dog pups, after the pups' mother had died. The nursing was going successfully, and the pups had gained weight. This is the first time that a domestic dog has ever been documented nursing African wild dog pups.

Hunting and diet

African wild dog3
Dogs with a wildebeest carcass

The African Wild Dog hunts in packs. Like most members of the dog family, it is a cursorial hunter, meaning that it pursues its prey in a long, open chase. Nearly 80% of all wild dog hunts end in a kill. Members of a pack vocalize to help coordinate their movements. Its voice is characterized by an unusual chirping or squeaking sound, similar to a bird.

Wild dogs frequently kill larger prey via disemboweling, a technique that is rapid but has caused this species to have a negative, ferocious reputation.

After a successful hunt, the hunters will regurgitate meat for those that remained at the den during the hunt including the dominant female, the pups, the sick or injured, the old and infirm, and those who stayed back to guard the pups.

Wild dog jenvdl
Wild dog feeding

The African Wild Dog's main prey varies among populations but always centers around medium-to-large sized ungulates, such as the impala, Thomson's Gazelle, Springbok, kudu, reedbuck, and wildebeest calves. The most frequent single prey species depends upon season and local availability. While the vast majority of its diet is made up of mammal prey, it sometimes hunts large birds, especially Ostriches. Other predators, such as lions, sometimes steal the prey that Wild Dogs catch. Some packs are also able to include large animals among their prey, including zebras and warthogs.

The frequency and success rates of hunting zebra and warthogs varies widely among specific packs. To hunt larger prey, Wild Dogs use a closely coordinated attack, beginning with a rapid charge to stampede the herd. One African Wild Dog then grabs the victim's tail, while another attacks the upper lip or nose, and the remainder attempt to disembowel the animal.

African painted dog, or African wild dog, Lycaon pictus at Savuti, Chobe National Park, Botswana. (32318493420)
African wild dog - Chobe National Park, Botswana

Male wild dogs usually perform the task of grabbing warthogs by the nose. This behaviour is also used on other large dangerous prey, such as the African Buffalo, giraffe calves, and large antelope—even the one-ton Giant Eland.

Remarkably, studies indicate that this large-animal hunting tactic may be a learned behavior, passed on from generation to generation within specific hunting packs, rather than an instinctive behaviour found commonly within the species. Some studies have also shown that other information, such as the location of watering holes, may be passed on similarly.

Distribution and threats

Wild Dog Kruger National Park South Africa
L. p. pictus pack, Kruger National Park, South Africa

The home range of packs varies enormously, depending on the size of the pack and the nature of the terrain. In the Serengeti, the average dog density (prior to the local extinction of the species) was 1 dog per 208 square kilometers (80 square miles), whereas in the Selous Game Reserve the average density was 1 dog every 25 square kilometers (9.6 square miles).

Their preferred habitat in the Serengeti is deciduous woodlands because of large prey herd size, lack of competition from other carnivores, and better sites for making dens. There were once approximately 500,000 African Wild Dogs in 39 countries, and packs of 100 or more were not uncommon. Now there are only about 3,000-5,500 in fewer than 25 countries, or perhaps only 14 countries.

African wild dog (8455652982)
African wild dog

The African Wild Dog is endangered by human overpopulation, habitat loss and predator control killing. It uses very large territories (and so can persist only in large wildlife protected areas), and it is strongly affected by competition with larger carnivores that rely on the same prey base, particularly the lion and the Spotted Hyena. Lions often will kill as many wild dogs as they can but do not eat them. One on one the hyena is much more powerful than the Wild Dog but a large group of Wild Dogs can successfully chase off a small number of hyenas because of their teamwork.

It is also killed by livestock herders and game hunters, though it is typically no more (perhaps less) persecuted than other carnivores that pose more threat to livestock. Most of Africa's national parks are too small for a pack of wild dogs, so the packs expand to the unprotected areas, which tend to be ranch or farm land. Ranchers and farmers protect their domestic animals by killing the wild dogs.

Dogs, jackals, wolves, and foxes (Plate XLIV)
African Wild Dog illustration

Like other carnivores, the African Wild Dog is sometimes affected by outbreaks of viral diseases such as rabies, distemper, and parvovirus, the small size of most wild dog populations makes them vulnerable to local extinction due to diseases or other problems.

The Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) effort, based in Hwange National Park, western Zimbabwe, works with local communities to create new strategies for conserving the wild dog and its habitat.

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