Dog, African Wild

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Dog, African wild

Lycaon pictus

phylum: Chordata

class: Mammalia

order: Carnivora

family: Canidae

status: Endangered, IUCN Endangered, ESA

range: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Congo Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Description and biology

The African wild dog, also called the African painted wolf, has a streaked, multicolored coat. The tan, black, and white pattern varies between individual dogs, but each animal's head is usually dark. An African wild dog has large rounded ears, which it uses to signal other dogs and to control body temperature by radiating (giving off) heat. Its 12- to 16-inch (30- to 41-centimeter) tail ends in a plume that is white-tipped. The dog's legs are long and thin. An average African wild dog has a head and body length of 30 to 44 inches (76 to 112 centimeters) and a shoulder height of 24 to 31 inches (61 to 79 centimeters). It weighs between 37 and 79 pounds (17 and 36 kilograms).

African wild dogs have a tightly knit social structure. They form packs of 2 to 45 members that hunt cooperatively. Prey includes impalas, antelopes, gazelles, zebras, wildebeest, and warthogs. The dogs are swift runners and can reach speeds up to 40 miles (64 kilometers) per hour. Their hunting range varies widely from 600 to 1,500 square miles (1,555 to 3,885 square kilometers).

In a pack, all males are related to each other and all females are related to each other, but males and females are not related. Male and female groups often travel from packs to join new ones. In most cases, mating takes place between the dominant male and dominant female in a pack. After a gestation (pregnancy) period of 69 to 72 days, a female African wild dog gives birth to up to 16 pups. About half of these pups do not survive infancy. All members of the pack care for the pups, which are allowed to eat first after the pack makes a kill.

Habitat and current distribution

African wild dogs are found throughout Africa south of the Sahara Desert. The animals prefer to inhabit grasslands, savannas, or open woodlands. Biologists (people who study living organisms) estimate that about 5,000 African wild dogs currently exist in the world.

History and conservation measures

African wild dogs were once common throughout the African continent. At the beginning of the twentieth century, packs of 100 or more dogs roamed the Serengeti Plain in northern Tanzania. Today, the total number of African wild dogs on the Serengeti is fewer than 60.

As the human population in Africa has grown, wild dog habitat has decreased. The animals have also suffered because of the widespread—but unfounded—belief they are pests. In many areas in Africa, people have shot, poisoned, and trapped them. The greatest threat to African wild dogs, however, is increased contact with domestic dogs. Canine diseases such as distemper and rabies run rampant when introduced into an African wild dog pack.

The breeding of African wild dogs in zoos has been moderately successful.