The African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) is South Africa’s most endangered Canid species, and the second most endangered Canid in the whole of Africa, behind the Ethiopian Wolf.
Following my latest Shamwari Diaries blog post; Wild days and wild dogs (if you missed it, you can catch up here), I am delighted to announce this new blog post collaboration with aspiring wildlife biologist and UK Blog Award ‘Nature and Wildlife Finalist’ Tolga Aktas; creator of Ways of the Natural World blog.
We’ve collated our personal top 10 reasons that highlight the importance of saving the rare and beautiful African wild dog. Do you agree with our reasons, or want to add some of your own? Please leave us a comment at the end of this post!
1. The African wild dog’s population numbers have decreased significantly over the past 30 years…
Tolga: Population numbers of African wild dogs are now sadly fewer than 5,000 individuals! According to the IUCN Red List, only 1,409 mature individuals are roaming in the wild and these populations continue to decline on a daily basis due to many contributing factors.
The current threats which negatively impact the wild dog populations are:
- habitat loss and fragmentation
- human-wildlife conflict
- snaring and infectious disease outbreaks such as rabies and canine distemper.
2. African wild dogs are not suited to captive lifestyles…
Kate: I touched upon this in my recent Wild days and wild dogs Shamwari Diaries blog post; but the sad truth is; African wild dogs are considered a pest to many game reserves and sanctuaries in Africa, due to their high success rate in killing game (and not always eating it…). Their clever hunting strategies and their need to roam across huge territories makes them a challenging resident to any fenced environment.
As a result, across Africa the wild dogs, or African Painted Dogs, are killed or driven out by farmers and game keepers alike. Conserving these animals in the ‘true wild’ really is their greatest hope of species survival.
3. They play a huge role in the ecosystem as a predator species…
Tolga: Africa in general is home to numerous amounts of carnivore species such as Lions, Leopards, Cheetahs, Hyenas and Jackals and of course, the African wild dogs.
These species maintain a healthy ecosystem by predating on herbivore species such as Nyala, Impala, Kudu and so on, to keep populations at a good balance.
Without carnivores such as the African wild dogs and the other predators, the population numbers of the herbivore species would get out of control which then leads to habitats becoming incapable of restoring itself from all of the consumption by the herbivore species.
4. They are some of the planet’s most successful hunters…
Kate: Following on from Tolga’s message, African wild dogs are not only important predators, but they are brilliant predators!
As the BBC series ‘The Hunt’ taught us, they have one of the highest success rates of any animal species, with 80 per cent of hunts ending in a kill (comparatively, lions average a 25 per cent success rate when it comes to actual kills).
This means that they should be sitting happily at the top of the food chain, but sadly the brutal nature of their brilliant hunting skills, is also one of the contributing factors in their persecution by humans.
Working in a pack allows them to pursue prey mercilessly, with unwavering stamina, and often they will begin to feed on and disembowel their targets while the animal is still alive.
While such behaviour is one the harsh realities of nature, it certainly doesn’t warrant acts of human cruelty or ‘revenge’ on these creatures. Perhaps this expectation of nature to be clean and respectful is what we can call the ‘Disney effect’?
5. Their natural tendency to disperse may help them with saving themselves…
These individuals are thought to move across huge distances from their family groups, to join or create other packs. As the species has declined over time, the overall population has become more fragmented across Africa, with only a few, isolated population strongholds.
Kate: At a recent National Geographic Explorers’ Spotlight, I learned of the fascinating studies being carried by ecologist Dominik Behr and his team. Dominik’s research for the University of Zurich in collaboration with the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust focuses on (non-alpha) male wild dogs and their natural dispersal behaviour.
Dominik hopes that by collecting movement data from individual animals, he can map dispersal trajectories – and thus assess population viability and and the demographic consequences that dispersal can have.
While this data will prove vital for implementing effective conservation strategies, it is also hoped that this dispersal behaviour has allowed for positive impacts on the species’ genetic diversity, and that indeed dispersing dogs can link the existing populations fragments!
6. The African wild dog is such a beautiful and iconic species!
Tolga: The wild dogs are so underrated as a species and it is really nice to see that people are finally giving the species the recognition and attention that it deserves.
Each wild dog’s unique painted coat pattern is never the same as another individual, and lucky glimpses of a wild dog pack running high speed through the bush is a sight that will stick with you for a lifetime.
The release of the recent BBC documentary series Dynasties, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, saw an entire episode dedicated to African wild dogs and promoting their conservation status (and all of the threats which make them so vulnerable within their natural widespread habitat in Africa!).
7. The species are known for forming unbreakable bonds…
Tolga: African wild dogs’ lives revolve around strong pack bonds, which at most times are unbreakable. They will do whatever it takes to protect one another.
Wild dog packs consist of an alpha male and an alpha female, and this alpha pair are generally the only members of the pack that having breeding rights.
The entire pack takes up the responsibility to protect the pups and ensure pack remains strong and for the breeding pair’s dynasty to live on.
8. They display an impressive level of learning…
Kate: When an alpha African wild dog learns a new strategy or behaviour, it can lead the pack into its obsession over this learned routine or habit.
We saw this in the recent Dynasties BBC series, where an alpha’s grudge over defending her territory against a rival led to the near collapse of the pack! When an African wild dog learns of a threat (or an opportunity for that matter); it simply cannot ‘unlearn’ it.
The African wild dogs I encountered during my own travels were in the process of being relocated after their clever hunting technique of chasing animals onto the electric fence left several animals-a-night dead, but the wild dogs unable to feed off of them without receiving a nasty electric shock themselves.
Despite the inability to fully enjoy the spoils of their cleverly learned hunting strategy, the wild dogs simply couldn’t resist this foolproof killing technique, and carried this technique out, over and over again (sometimes racking up several successful kills – and often zero successful feeds each night). Not great when each animal killed represents a private reserve owner’s investment, but with no ecological benefit to its death (see point 2 on this list!).
9. Many people don’t even know that the African wild dog exists…
Tolga: It is a sad fact, but not many people know that the African wild dog exists or even know what it is. I have told so many people of this species that I worked with in July 2018 with Wildlife ACT, and they thought it was a Hyena.
At least 90% of my family and friends mistakenly thought this species to be another species and did not even know it was endangered nor existed.
While this is worrying beyond belief, there is a lot of hope as so much attention is spotlighted towards the species nowadays. So many organisations are making African wild dog conservation their priority such as Wildlife ACT, Painted Dog Conservation, Painted Wolf Foundation, Endangered Wildlife Trust, Range Wide Conservation Program for Cheetah & African Wild Dogs and Botswana Predator Conservation Trust.
10. It is the only existing member of its genus: Lycaon…
Tolga: Due to the species name ‘African Wild Dog’, it is also common for people to mistake the species for the stray dogs that roam around near human settlements. It is very important not to get the two confused and if you pay good enough attention then you will see that the physiological features differ greatly.
The species name doesn’t do it much justice, but did you know that its scientific name Lycaon pictus which is translated as the ‘Painted Wolf’? Other common names for the species include: African Hunting Dog, Cape Hunting Dog, Painted Dog and many other names.
While the wild dog resembles a dog slightly, it is in fact the only existing member of its genus Lycaon.
What does that mean? There are no other family members of this species, and as it is endangered in the wild – if it were to completely disappear then there would be no chance in ever seeing a species like this ever again.
Discover how African Wild Dogs are linked to the Born Free story here.
EXCITING NEWS! Both ‘Ways of the Natural World’ and ‘Kate on Conservation’ feature in a brand new book available now — The Wildlife Blog Collection: a compilation of 70 amazing stories celebrating some of the most memorable, entrancing and exciting wildlife moments as told by top nature writers from across the globe. Order your copy here