The African Painted Dog is one of the world’s most social and distinctive canids. The short, wiry coat is coloured in blotches of yellow, black and white, lending them their name of ‘painted’ dog. Each individual’s markings are unique.
Males are slightly heavier than females; an adult dog can weigh between 18-34kg.
They have long, slender limbs and they are unique in that they only have four toes. Their head is large, with big, rounded ears and a short, powerful muzzle.
When hunting they can reach speeds of up to 45km/hr and they communicate using a wide range of vocalisations.
Habitat and Distribution
African Wild Dogs are generalist predators, occupying a range of habitats including short-grass plains, semi-desert, bushy savannas and upland forest.
While early studies in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, led to a belief that wild dogs were primarily an open plains species, more recent data indicate that they reach their highest densities in thicker bush (e.g. Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania; Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe; and northern Botswana).
Several relict populations occupy dense upland forest (e.g. Harenna Forest, Ethiopia: Malcolm and Sillero-Zubiri 2001; Ngare Ndare Forest, Kenya). African Wild Dogs have been recorded in desert (Lhotse 1946), although they appear unable to establish themselves in the southern Kalahari (M.G.L. Mills, unpubl.), and montane habitats (Thesiger 1970; Malcolm and Sillero-Zubiri 2001), although not in lowland forest. It appears that their current distribution is limited primarily by human activities and the availability of prey, rather than by the loss of a specific habitat type.
The principal threats to African Wild Dogs are conflict with human activities and infectious disease. Both of these are mediated by habitat fragmentation, which increases contact between wild dogs, people and domestic dogs.
The important role played by human-induced mortality has two long-term implications. First, it makes it likely that, outside protected areas, wild dogs may well be unable to co-exist with the increasing human population unless better protection and local education programmes are implemented. This will be a serious problem for wild dog populations outside protected areas. Second, wild dog ranging behaviour leads to a very substantial “edge effect”, even in large reserves. Simple geometry dictates that a reserve of 5,000 km² contains no point more than 40 km from its borders – a distance well within the range of distances travelled by a pack of wild dogs in their usual ranging behaviour. Thus, from a wild dog’s perspective, a reserve of this size (fairly large by most standards) would be all edge. As human populations rise around reserve borders, the risks to wild dogs venturing outside are also likely to increase. Under these conditions, only the very largest unfenced reserves will be able to provide any level of protection for wild dogs. In South Africa, proper fencing around quite small reserves has proved effective in keeping dogs confined to the reserve (although fencing has costs, as well as benefits, in conservation terms).
There are no commercial uses for wild dogs, other than non-consumptive ecotourism.
African Wild Dogs mostly hunt medium-sized antelope. Whereas they weigh 20–30 kg, their prey average around 50 kg, and may be as large as 200 kg. In most areas their principal prey are Impala, Greater Kudu, Thomson’s Gazelle and Common Wildebeest.
They will give chase of larger species, such as Common Eland and African Buffalo, but rarely kill such prey. Small antelope, such as dik-dik, Steenbok and duiker are important in some areas, and warthogs are also taken in some populations. Wild dogs also take very small prey such as hares, lizards and even eggs, but these make a very small contribution to their diet.
Breeding and Lifecycle
African Wild Dogs live in packs, comprised of related females, related males, and pups, with a very unique social structure. Pack sizes usually range from 6-20 animals but have been observed with numbers as high as 27 and as low as 2. Pack sizes that fall below 6 have trouble hunting successfully and pack sizes exceeding 20 usually break apart to form new packs.
New packs are formed when groups of sisters or brothers emigrate together and join opposite-sex groups; however, field observations suggest that not all combinations of groups are compatible. If two groups merge and find that they are unable to ‘get along’ the groups will separate and continue searching for an opposite sexed group to form a pack with. When a group of brothers meets successfully with a group of sisters, the pack will begin to reproduce.
African Painted Dogs cycle seasonally, usually breeding once a year. The alpha female and alpha male is the only pair in the pack to breed, with other pack members assisting the female in raising her young.
The average number in a litter is 6-9 pups. After a gestation of 72 days, the alpha female will give birth in a den, where the pups will remain for the first few months. At around three months of age, the pups are old enough to start venturing out with the adults and begin learning how to hunt.
African Painted Dogs can live up to 10-12 years.
The Zoo and Aquarium Association acknowledges Perth Zoo for providing the factsheet information above.