African wild dog
|African wild dog|
The African wild dog is the largest member of the Canine family existing in Africa, and immediately recognizable for its boldly-colored coat.
The African wild dog is a medium-sized canid, about the size of a domestic German shepherd. They are about 56 inches from nose to tail, and weigh up to 66 pounds. The head is large and broad, and carry big, rounded, bat-like ears. The legs are long and slender, and unlike any other canid they lack dewclaws.
The hair is short, sparse, and broken up into irregular patches of black, white, tan, and brown; no two dogs are exactly alike, and the only constant among the individual dogs are a black muzzle and white tail tip. The boldness of the coloration inspired the scientific name of Lycaon pictus, Latin for "painted wolf".
African wild dogs were once found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, in open savannas, grasslands, and sparsely-wooded areas which allow the dogs to sight and run after prey without hindrance.
African wild dogs exist in packs of 10 to as much as 60 animals. Their social structure consists of a dominant breeding pair - an alpha male and female - who are the only breeding dogs in the pack, and the only ones who do urine marking. The dominance goes no further than that; unlike their nearest social predatory group (lions), there is no true hierarchy in the dog pack. The dominant pair kills and feeds equally with the other dogs, and all dogs share in the responsibility of feeding the young. Their territories are limited to the area around the breeding dens, which are little more than holes in the ground where the alpha female gives birth to as many as 12 pups.
One of the continent's top predators, African wild dogs do not stalk their prey; rather they walk calmly near a herd and run after an individual they have selected. They rely on endurance and stamina to wear down zebra, antelope, or gazelle, often running at 35 m.p.h. for three miles or more. The dogs gain control of the animal by biting and hanging onto the lip and tail; feeding on the prey takes place immediately, and usually before the animal is killed. This type of feeding has been called "barbaric" by some authorities, but it is believed the prey animal goes into shock and does not feel it, unlike lions or leopards which kill by slow strangulation.
Once one of the most numerous predators on the continent, Afican wild dogs today number no more than 5,000 estimated animals, primarily due to human activity. Urbanization and increased farming have reduced the size of the herds of grazing animals which the dogs routinely hunted, while some packs which have killed human livestock were eliminated as pests. Contact with domestic dogs further reduced their numbers, as canine distemper, rabies, and other diseases made inroads into the packs. Today, wild dogs are seen in packs averaging ten animals or less; it has been estimated that the total population of wild dogs on the Serengeti plain is 60.