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The African Wild Dog

African wild dogs are a sight with their colourful coats and long, elegant legs, especially in large packs. Where they were once common over most of sub-Saharan Africa, they are now threatened with extinction due to human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss, and diseases. Intensive conservation and management of existing populations are crucial to their continued survival.

Some interesting facts about wild dogs

Social animals

Wild dogs live in tight-knit family groups of 2 to 20 adults. The alpha male and female pair leads the pack and are the only ones that breed. The rest of the pack is usually made up of siblings and offspring of the alpha pair. Young males and females dispersein same-sex groups when they are 1-2 years old to form new packs or join old ones.

Effective hunters

Their impressive speed and teamwork make them effective predators with a success rate of up to 70% in large packs. Common prey animals include medium-sized antelope like impala, nyala, and duikers. Large packs can also take down larger prey, such as wildebeest.

Interactions with other large carnivores. Both lions and hyenas will steal wild dog kills. Larger groups of wild dogs can better protect their kills from hyenas, but they will back away from lions. Lions can kill an entire pack of wild dogs.

Distribution

Wild dogs live in forests, savannas, shrublands, grasslands, deserts, and sub-Saharan Africa. While they were once widespread, they are now limited to a few small patches.

Wild dog conservation status and threats:

South Africa's most endangered carnivore

Wild dogs are listed as endangered, with an estimated population of 6,600 adults, and their population size is still declining. Threats include human-wildlife conflict, habitat fragmentation and transformation, and diseases like distemper, rabies, and anthrax.

Human-wildlife conflict

Human-wildlife conflict is a significant threat to carnivores worldwide, primarily due to carnivores predating on livestock. In December 2023, six wild dogs in the Waterberg died from poisoning. The reason for the poisoning is still unknown, but in the Waterberg region, conflict occurs when wild dogs predate on valuable game species, due to the increasing game ranching industry in the area.

Habitat loss

Due to habitat fragmentation, dispersing wild dogs are more likely to travel through human-populated areas, increasing human-wildlife conflict and mortality risk. Dispersing wild dogs are especially vulnerable and have an increased mortality risk compared to resident adults for various reasons, such as predation, disease, and especially human-related mortality (hunting and road collisions).

Limited genetic diversity

The dispersal habits of wild dogs help to ensure the species’ genetic diversity. However, fragmented habitats and isolated populations limit the ability of wild dogs to disperse, influencing their genetic integrity. If wild dogs cannot disperse far enough and interact with other populations, they are at risk of inbreeding, threatening their survival as a species.

Diseases

Since most remaining wild dog populations are small, a disease outbreak can have a devastating impact on wild dog numbers. During the 2016 distemper outbreak in South Africa, Kruger National Park, Tswalu Kalahari Nature Reserve, and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve lost entire packs due to distemper. Other diseases such as rabies, anthrax, and canine parvovirus can also affect wild dogs, especially when wild dogs contact domestic dogs, which can be carriers of these diseases.

Climate change

Wild dogs are threatened by climate change since hot weather reduces their hunting activity, reducing their ability to raise pups. An increased frequency of hot days will decrease pup survival in the long run, reducing their ability to “bounce back” after disasters like disease outbreaks.

Wild dog conservation initiatives

A pack of wild dogs requires a lot of food. Therefore, they need extensive hunting grounds: 60 to 3,000 km2, depending on habitat type, prey availability, and the presence of other large carnivores. Due to habitat fragmentation, few such areas are available.

The South African Wild Dog Metapopulation Project was established in 1997 to expand the range of wild dogs in suitable protected areas in South Africa. Groups of dispersal-aged dogs are captured and reintroduced into appropriate areas. Between 1998 and 2017, this project established a metapopulation of 108 wild dogs on 15 additional reserves in South Africa.

What can you do to help?

Support African wild dog conservation projects such as:

Visit nature reserves that house wild dog populations. By seeing these beauties for yourself, you will also support the conservation tourism industry and their continued survival.

Start a career in conservation by doing a wildlife course

Immerse yourself in the African wilderness, expand your knowledge, and embark on a transformative learning experience with EcoTraining.

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For more information on our Wildlife Enthusiast Courses, contact [email protected] or call +27 (0)13 7522532

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About the Author:
Picture of Arista Botha

Arista Botha

Arista Botha is a freelance scientific writer with a background in research. She has a master’s in wildlife conservation physiology and several scientific publications. Arista worked as an associate research officer at the University of the Witwatersrand for five years while registered for a PhD. Instead of completing her PhD and pursuing an academic career, she became a writer. Her key areas of interest include wildlife, ecology, and the conservation of plants and animals.

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