Link to BBC Wild Dog Videos
The African Wild Dog (otherwise known as The Painted Dog/ Wolf) is an integral part of the landscape of Africa. Quite simply, they belong there; tracing their evolutionary history back 40 million years. They don’t immediately spring to the forefront of the mind when one thinks of the wild animals of Africa and that is a shame because they deserve their voice to be heard.
Living in a pack, of anything, up to thirty they have an intricate and amazing social structure, each member playing their part. The pack is led by an Alpha male and female pair, with the female ‘aunties’, helping to raise the pups and along with young males ‘uncles’ remaining within the family, the pups have plenty of role models. Usually, it is the prerogative of the Alpha female to breed, but it is not unknown for other females within the pack to give birth.
The dogs are nomadic, covering vast distances; only denning when pups are born and they are old enough to keep up with the pack. Whilst others go out to hunt, ‘baby sitters’ are left to mind the pups, which along with young and ill dogs are always fed first.
Working as a pack, they are fast and powerful hunters, splitting and flanking, in order to bring down their prey (e.g. Impala) despatching the kill quickly to feed avidly before losing it to other stronger competitors.
Much social interaction takes place to reinforce the family structure, with lip-licking, sniffing and scent exchange, accompanied by squeaky, thin tones of vocalisation, heightened before a hunt takes place.
With such strong co-operation, you may ask why they are threatened.
100 yrs ago the approx estimated population was between 300,000 and 500,000 animals. Now the estimate is some 3,000 animals. The Painted Dog has been wiped out, from 25 of the 39 countries in which it formally resided. Its main stronghold is now Eastern and Southern Africa.
Canine diseases from domestic dogs, such as rabies, but mostly distemper, have decimated whole packs, as man has encroached further into their territory, often holding the wild dogs in disdain, as a ‘wicked creature’ whilst their own dogs range freely.
With the loss of territory and dogs ranging great distances, roads with increasing traffic, are a major killer of single dogs within a pack. Even the loss of a single dog can upset the pack equilibrium and all deaths have an effect on the gene pool. Males and females, of breeding age have to break away from their own packs and integrate, to form unrelated alliances; ‘to spread the gene pool’.
Poaching, poisoning and snares also take their toll, as human farmers, subjected to land reforms and desperation, move further into wildlife reserves.
How can we help these much maligned Painted Dogs?
We can help raise awareness, lift their profile, say ‘hey we are here, we exist!’ Because at the moment, the fact they are endangered, is often ignored, swept under the carpet. Being not as enigmatic, as say, the mountain gorilla or the tiger – they don’t ‘catch the attention’. Conservation bodies fight this battle daily.
Working alongside local people, conservationists are treating injured and diseased dogs, rehabilitating and in the longer term, working to expand the gene pool to ensure the African Wild Dog has a future.
Dr Gregory Rasmussen, of the www.painteddog.org who kindly provided the quote on the front of this page, has worked tirelessly in furtherance of the well being of the dogs.
Another conservation body is; www.awdconservancy.org
Please take a look, because the dogs Social Structure will, enthral and captivate you too!