English: African wild dog, Painted dog, Painted wolf, Cape hunting dog
The Wild Dog is a 20-25 kg, slightly built, highly social carnivore. Males tend to be three to seven percent heavier than females. Wild Dog coat patterns are individually unique and highly variable combining black, white and varying shades of brown. The ears are large and black, a black line runs along the sagittal crest and the tails are usually predominantly white. The white tail portion is believed to assist with maintaining visual contact among the pack when moving through thick bush, tall grass or during crepuscular activities. Wild Dogs lack dew claws on the front limbs and the pads on the second and third toes are usually partially fused. Wild Dogs can reach running speeds while hunting of over 60 km/hr. Packs average 13 adults and the trend is towards a male bias in sex ratio. This may relate to the increased survival rate of males compared with females because litters tend to have equal sex ratios. A pack usually comprises a dominant breeding pair, subordinate non-breeding adults and subordinate offspring of the alpha pair. However, recent research indicates that shared breeding with subordinates within a pack appears to be more common among Wild Dogs than was previously thought.
Wild Dogs were once distributed throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa. However, a distribution status review in 1997 suggests they have been extirpated from 25 of their former 39 range states. Viable populations, those which are sufficiently genetically diverse for a population to persist in perpetuity, remain in several countries in southern and eastern Africa, with the largest occurring in northern Botswana, western Zimbabwe, eastern Namibia, north-eastern South Africa, northern Mozambique, southern Tanzania and central Kenya. Wild Dogs persist in only one protected area in West Africa, namely the Niokolo-Koba National Park. This population was estimated at 38 individuals in 2011, a significant decrease from the previously estimated 400 individuals in 1975, and 50 - 100 individuals in 1995.
Wild Dogs are classified in the family Canidae. As the only remaining representatives in the genus Lycaon they are phylogenetically unique. Wild Dogs from East and southern Africa were previously considered to be two distinct sub-species. However, despite genetic and morphological research indicating some regional differences among populations, the features are not sufficiently distinct to merit sub-species classification.
Wild Dogs are cooperative breeders in which socially subordinate adults assist with rearing of the offspring. It has generally been considered that Wild Dogs are monogamous and breeding is restricted to a dominant pair. However, subordinate females do sometimes breed successfully. Recent genetic studies have indicated the existence of multiple sires among pups in a single pack.
Wild Dogs breed seasonally, usually settling at a den site in May-June towards the end of a gestation which is approximately 70 days. Litter sizes average 8-12 pups but can be as many as 21. If a subordinate female gives birth, these pups are either combined in a communal den where suckling is shared amongst the females or she is socially excluded until such point as she cannot maintain her pups and they perish.
During early lactation the mother is generally confined to the den and is provisioned with regurgitated meat by members of the pack. Pups will begin to consume meat within four weeks of birth. Pups can continue to be fed with regurgitated meat, or with pieces of a carcass brought to the pups for two to three months. Such cooperative behaviour plays a significant role in increasing pup survival and may facilitate the large litter sizes.
Larger Wild Dog packs also show a trend of raising larger litters of pups to yearling age than smaller packs. Pup survival to adulthood in the national metapopulation was recorded at 45% - nearly three times the survival rates for pups in Kruger National Park and annual growth rate was higher than in larger unmanaged populations. These results can have major management implications for small reserves.
Packs are normally formed when same-sex dispersing groups (usually siblings) leave their natal pack and join with dispersing, unrelated, groups of the opposite sex. This occurs when animals are approximately one and a half to two years of age. Factors such as food availability and natal pack composition likely influence the rate and composition of dispersal groups. Dispersing groups have been recorded travelling up to 476 km before finding appropriate mates and forming a new pack with which to establish a home range territory.
Wild Dogs are opportunistic carnivores using a cursorial, cooperative hunting strategy to chase down prey. Such a pack hunting strategy can enable metabolic requirements to be met by hunting larger prey than could be caught by an individual Dog. Killing of prey is primarily through disembowelment. Wild Dogs feed predominantly upon the most abundant medium sized (16-32 kg) or large (120-140 kg) antelope available, although they are able to subsist off smaller prey such as dik-dik Madoqua kirkii and hares. The bimodal classification of preferred prey weights reflects the foraging success, and energetic cost-benefit dynamics of Wild Dog packs in relation to varying pack sizes. A pack size of 12-14 adults maximizes the daily kilograms killed per Dog per kilometre chased. Wild Dogs generally hunt daily and consume on average 3.04 kg per day. Geographic variations in prey preference have been associated with regional prey abundance. In KwaZulu-Natal Nyala and Impala are the prey species favoured by Wild Dogs. Prey populations should be assessed annually after the Wild Dogs have been introduced to ensure prey numbers are sufficiently maintained. Wild Dogs can quickly learn to use the fences as a hunting tool; enabling them to capture prey much larger than they ordinarily would. Accordingly, caution should be exercised when considering minimum property size estimates for a pack Wild Dogs as the use of larger areas may be required to prevent local population declines in preferred prey species.
Wild dogs are classified as Endangered by the IUCN. In South Africa, management of wild dogs is governed by the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (Act No. 10 of 2004) (NEMBA) and by the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) regulations. TOPS regulations classify wild dogs as endangered.
Wild Dog populations have declined across the continent as a result of increasingly fragmented habitat, an expanding human population and through direct persecution both within and outside of protected areas. Increased habitat fragmentation can increase a population’s susceptibility to stochastic, catastrophic events and can lead to an increasing number of encounters with domestic Dogs infected with diseases such as rabies, or may result in a reduction of genetic diversity through inbreeding. Wild Dogs occur at lower densities than competing carnivores such as Lions Panthera leo and Spotted Hyaena’s Crocuta crocuta, and are susceptible to edge effects caused by vehicle collisions, snaring and diseases because of their wide ranging behaviour. The highest priority for Wild Dog conservation is thus considered to be the maintenance of contiguous, suitable landscapes and the mitigation of lethal edge effects.
A considerable challenge is to balance pack spatial requirements with the availability of remaining, suitable habitat. Natural fluctuations in numbers of individual Wild Dogs in each reserve, as well as in the metapopulation as a whole, are common and part of ecosystem functioning. Pack numbers should be considered more important than individual Wild Dog numbers. It should be the aim of managed metapopulation reserves to simulate natural conditions for Wild Dogs as closely as possible where genetic integrity, reproductive activity and the long-term viability of the Wild Dogs in each reserve are the guiding principle.
The goal of the metapopulation is, not only, to ensure the long term survival and conservation of the Wild Dog in South Africa but also to encourage biodiversity. Biodiversity is a broad concept incorporating compositional, structural and functional attributes at four levels of ecosystem organisation; namely landscapes, communities, species and genes. Of relevance to Wild Dogs in the metapopulation this incorporates not only the presence of Wild Dogs in an area, but, crucially, the restoration of their ability to interact with other species and to alter ecosystems.