The African Wild Dog: Everything You Need to Know

The African wild dog is known by many names, including the Cape hunting dogs, the painted dogs, painted wolves, and the African hunting dogs, among others. However, the scientific name for the African wild dog is Lycaon pictus, which means “painted wolf.” This name is descriptive of their irregular, blotched coat, which has spots of red, brown, white, black, and even yellow fur. Each African wild dog has its own, unique coat. They are also very popular for their well-rounded big ears and the white tip often spotted on their tails.

The African wild dog is a canine, but unlike other dogs, it only has four toes per foot. The weight of adult wild dogs ranges from 18 to 36 kg (40 to 79 lb.). However, males are often slightly bigger than females. These apex predators are also popular for their agility and can run faster than 70 km/h when hunting.

They all have different personalities, different skills, and their own quirks. All wild dogs have a sense of fun, a gentle soul, and a willingness to work together. This makes them one of the most social animals in Africa.


The African wild dog is normally found in savanna woodlands and open plains. They are not big fans of dense forests, but they do enjoy grasslands. The African wild dog makes use of dens, which are often abandoned aardvark or warthog holes. These dens are quite large, and the wild dogs usually repair or revamp these abandoned “homes”. Studies have shown that packs of wild dogs usually return to the same den every year, but only if it is vacant.

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The den is very important to the pack, especially when pups are born. It serves as a fortress of protection for females giving birth and their pups. The risk of flooding is one disadvantage of occupying a den, especially during the rainy season, which can result in the pups drowning.

Pack Behavior

African wild dogs live in packs which generally range from 10 to 40. The pack is led by a monogamous breeding pair, also known as the alpha male and female. The whole pack has the responsibility to look after the pups of the alpha pair. Older wild dogs often feed the pups and even rear them when necessary. 

The African wild dog is known for being very social. In fact, they share food with each other and assist weak or sick members of the pack.  

“African wild dogs stick together,”- Chris Kelly. 


Often, if a member is caught in a snare, members of the pack try to help them out of it. However, almost all of their attempts fail since these snares are very strong and secure and pose the greatest threat to the populations of African wild dogs scattered around southern Africa. Wild dogs communicate with each other through touch, action, and thin bird-like calls. 

wild dog pack

The African wild dogs are seasonal breeders with whelping occurring from April through to September. The gestation period lasts for a period of 70-75 days. In the Southern African regions, pups are normally born in late May, through to June.   

Females give birth in a prepared den, and pups will remain in the den for a period of three months. The female will stay with the pups and nurse them, while other members of the pack deliver food to her in the den. Pups are fed by their mother’s regurgitation, at least for the first three months. An interesting fact about female wild dogs is that they cannot rear their offspring on their own. They rely heavily on the assistance of the pack to successfully rear the pups. Members of the pack can be found guarding the den once pups are born, while others go off to hunt.   

Hunting Behavior

Wild dogs hunt during the day. The pack often gets within a few hundred yards of herds of prey, but the specific prey isn’t chosen until after the chase has started. They don’t run in packs, as we would naturally assume. In fact, they are very strategic when chasing down their prey.

african wild dog

Most of the time, the alpha can catch up to the fastest animal within two miles. While the others fall behind, one or two dogs stay at least 100 metres behind the alpha and are ready to catch the prey if it starts to circle or move away. As soon as their prey is caught, the pack pulls it apart. Large prey is chased down until it collapses from exhaustion. This is a common strategy used by African wild dogs, but it is not the only one. Their hunting style depends on the size and strength of their prey.

African wild dog packs have an 80% success rate when hunting, thanks to high levels of communication.

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African wild dogs have slim bodies and strong legs, enabling them to reach speeds of up to 60–72.5km/h during a chase. They are specially adapted to deal with the extreme heat, and their large, round ears keep the warm air out.

As mentioned before, African wild dogs are social animals who operate in packs. Once they have captured their prey, another member of the pack will assist in killing the prey and bringing it to the ground. Each member of the pack has a valuable contribution to make, especially when hunting


When the pups are born, it is important that they are protected in the den. The pack of wild dogs will change dens several times during the year. This is a precautionary measure against other predators in the region that pose a threat to the pups and pack.

Another reason for changing territories is to avoid parasite infestations, specifically flea infestations. Wild dog pups are protected in a den for three months, after which they are strong enough to move with the pack in search of a den in a new territory. 

Threats to Survival

The biggest threats to African wild dogs are human encroachment and agricultural expansion. Added to this, these majestic beasts are being hunted and killed by poachers for the illegal meat trade, which is rife in some parts of Africa. Wild dogs are also targeted by farmers who fear they will kill the livestock on their lands. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature is of the opinion that wild dog populations are now in an irreversible decline and should therefore be considered endangered.

There are still small groups of wild dogs in several southern and eastern African countries, such as South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Zimbabwe’s Zambezi and Hwange National Park, Botswana’s Okavango Delta region, and Tanzania’s Selous National Park (Tanzania).

The Impact of the Extinction of Wild dogs

Along with other large African carnivores like lions, hyenas, cheetahs, and leopards, the African wild dog is an important part of the ecosystem because it keeps herbivores from destroying habitat and overfeeding. This includes the impala, the greater kudu, the Thomson’s gazelle, the nyala, and the common wildebeest.

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Conservation Efforts

African wild dogs are one of the many species that benefit from protected wildlife corridors that help connect their habitats that are rapidly dissapearing. There are many conservation groups in Africa working on projects that make it easier for people and African wild dogs to get along through understanding their behavior. These include campaigns to raise awareness about the animals and dispel myths about them, as well as educational campaigns that teach farmers how to keep their livestock safe from predators.


What do African wild dogs eat?

African wild dogs are carnivores and have a wide variety of tastes. Their most common prey includes gazelles and other antelopes, warthogs, wildebeest calves, rats, and birds. 

Why are African wild dogs endangered?

The African wild dog is Endangered on the IUCN Red List (last assessed in 2012) attributed to habitat degradation, human-wildlife conflict, getting captured in poachers’ snares as bycatch, and infectious illnesses such canine distemper and rabies.

Where do African wild dogs live?

Southern Africa and East Africa’s south have the biggest populations (especially Tanzania and northern Mozambique). Wild dogs live in groups of 10 to 40 individuals. Females and their pups stay in dens which are gaurded and protected by other members of the pack up and till the pups are three months old. They will then relocate to a new territory.