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Dog, African Painted

African Wild dog African Painted Dog Wolf at the LA Zoo Photo Credit Tad Motoyama

Scientific Name: Lycaon pictus

Although their scientific name means “painted wolf” they are not wolves or dogs but a unique species that has existed for over three million years as the only member of their genus. They are also known as Cape hunting dogs or African wild dogs.

Pack Mentality

African painted dogs are highly social pack animals. An average pack has 30 or more members, consisting of an alpha pair, related females, related males, and pups. Packs are formed when sexually mature females leave their birth pack and join males from another group. Males remain with their natal pack. An alpha pair is established immediately and their dominance is rarely contested. The alpha pair is the breeding pair and reproduction is suppressed in the others, who fulfill the roles of nurse, babysitter, hunter, and sentry. Unlike other canids, these wild dog packs do not exist primarily for more successful hunting, but for increased protection from predation by lions and hyenas. Pack ranges do overlap, but if they encounter another pack the larger group will chase away the smaller group.

They rarely exhibit aggression amongst themselves, preferring friendly and submissive behavior. This is exhibited in elaborate greeting ceremonies that occur five to seven times a day where pack members vocalize with squeals, whines and twitters, lick each other and play excitedly.

Lifespan is about 11 years in the wild and 10-13 years in captivity.

African painted dogs are the second most endangered carnivore in Africa (after the Ethiopian wolf). There are less than 5,000 living in protected areas of Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. Isolated pockets can be found in Zambia, Kenya and Mozambique. Decline is attributed to habitat loss, poacher’s snares, shooting by ranchers, and vehicular traffic. Smaller populations are also threatened by disease such as rabies and distemper.

Their habitat consists of scrub savannah, grassy plains, and lightly wooded areas of southern and eastern Africa. Packs are nomadic, covering a home range of 80-1000 square miles, and rarely stay in one place for more than a day.

African painted dogs are carnivorous. Their 70-90% success rate makes them the most successful hunters in Africa. Impala constitutes up to 85% of their prey. The remainder is comprised of kudu, reedbuck, gazelle, wildebeest, and duiker. They may eat rodents or hares when larger prey isn’t available. Their eating hierarchy is unique among canids. The dogs responsible for the kill let the pups eat first. Pups are followed by yearlings, then two-year-olds, before the adult subordinates have a turn. The dominant pair eat at will, but also give pups first priority.

Their fur is a mottled pattern of black, brown, yellow, and white that is unique in each individual. This serves to make the pack look larger by helping to confuse their prey and predators. Pups are black with white markings at birth, and start to acquire yellow markings at four weeks. They stand 24-30 inches at the shoulder and weigh 37-80 pounds. Their long legs and streamlined body contributes to their speed and endurance. They have large rounded ears for enhanced hearing and temperature regulation. Unlike other canids, they have no dewclaw on their forelimbs. Unusually large premolars allow them to crush bone for consumption. The carnassials have a single cusp for increased shearing capacity.

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