Huge influxes of cattle during the drought in 2017 meant that many of the African wild dogs in Laikipia were wiped out by canine distemper virus (CDV) spread from the herdsmen’s domestic dogs.
However, after nearly a year of no sightings, staff at the Loisaba Star Beds were excited to hear the unique calls of a pack of wild dogs on Monday! Before hunts, wild dogs often engage in a ‘greeting ceremony’, where many sounds are produced by the dogs including whimpers, whines and high pitched twitters, which are unique and easy to identify.
The African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), also known as the cape hunting dog or painted wolf, is one of the world’s most endangered carnivore species. Once found widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa in woodland, savannah, shrubland and grassland, they are now listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as they have sadly disappeared from over 90% of their former range. They are now only found in fragmented populations mainly in southern and eastern Africa, and are thought to number fewer than 6,600 individuals.
This alarming decrease in population size was due mainly to shooting and poisoning in livestock areas. Although wild dogs have been known to take sheep or goats in areas of low prey density, the reason for persecution has also been due to wild dogs’ reputation as ‘cruel and bloodthirsty killers’, unfairly earned by their killing methods of tearing prey apart.
African wild dogs disappeared from Laikipia at the start of the 1980s due to the combined effects of persecution and disease, but were recorded back in the area during 2000. In 2003, the minimum population estimate was 150 wild dogs in 11 packs, comparable to populations in national parks.
Although wild dogs are now a protected species, they remain at risk of extinction due to increased conflict with humans in competition for space. Their ranging behaviour in pursuit of prey means they require very large areas to support viable populations.
Increased use of land for farming and the expanding human population means that wild dogs are being forced into small, unconnected areas. As a result of their extensive territories, even large fragments may only contain very few individuals; too small to sustain a viable wild dog population as not enough genetic variation is present to provide a sustainable population, leading to localised extinctions.
The highest priority for the conservation of African wild dogs is dealing with habitat fragmentation. A crucial part of the work we do at Loisaba is to help protect vital wildlife corridors for all species to safely cross. Last weekend’s episode of Dynasties showed just how important this connectivity is to the conservation of African wild dogs. (https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p06mvrr0/dynasties-series-1-4-painted-wolf)
Land connected. Life protected.
If you would like to help us conserve some of our planets most important habitat, please visit www.loisaba.com/donate
African wild dogs are highly social, usually forming packs of between six and 20 individuals (although packs as large as 30 have been observed!).
The females rather than the males are the ones to leave the family group in search of new packs, a unique behaviour among social carnivores.
Dominance hierarchies are established by showing submissiveness, with the dogs rarely showing aggression to one another.
Wild dogs give birth to the largest litters of any other dog species, usually between seven and 10 pups but they can number up to 20. Due to the size of these litters, only the dominant pair of the pack breed, and other members help to bring up the young. As other members of the pack are usually related to the dominant pair, looking after their offspring also ensures the passing on of their own genes as they are likely to share at least half of their genetics with the dominant female.
Wild dogs do not fight each other for access to food, and meat is divided between pack members after a successful hunt. When there are puppies in a den, some dogs will remain behind on hunts to guard them, and will beg for food from other members when they return. The dogs that have returned from a successful hunt will regurgitate food for the adults as well as the young, another unique behavioural trait among carnivores.
They are primarily crepuscular hyper-carnivores, meaning they are active at dawn and dusk and rest during the hot hours of the day (although they are known to hunt at night when there is sufficient light from the moon!) and they get all of their dietary needs from protein and therefore eat only meat.
Unlike cats which rely on stalking their prey until they are close followed by a short sprint, African wild dogs rely on out-running their prey over distances as far as 5km (2km on average), reaching speeds of up to 66km per hour.
Their hunts are highly successful, around 80% of all hunts end in a kill (lions having a success rate of only 10%). This high success rate is primarily due to their cooperation during hunts.
By Hannah Campbell