Hyena vs. Wild Dog: How to Spot the Difference

Physical Characteristics

The African Wild Dog

The African Wild Dog has a slender build with long legs and a narrow skull. Their fur is short and bristly, with irregular patches of black, white, and yellowish-brown fur. They have large ears that are rounded and can swivel to detect sounds from different directions.

African wild dogs have a unique dentition compared to other canids, with fewer molars and premolars. Their front teeth are long and sharp, enabling them to grasp and tear apart their prey. Their digestive system is also specialized for meat-eating, with a short intestine and a powerful stomach that can digest bones and tough tissues.

The morphology of the African wild dog is well-adapted for its hunting lifestyle, allowing it to run long distances, catch prey, and digest its food efficiently.

The Hyena

The physical appearance of the hyena is distinctive and easily recognizable. They have a robust build with a sloping back and a powerful neck and shoulders. Their front legs are longer than their hind legs, giving them a loping gait when they walk or run. Their heads are large and broad with strong jaws and pointed ears that can move independently.

Hyenas have shaggy fur that is usually brown or gray with darker spots or stripes. They have a bushy tail that they carry low to the ground. The fur on their back stands up when they feel threatened or excited, making them appear larger and more intimidating.

One of the most striking features of the hyena is its teeth. They have large, powerful jaws with sharp teeth that are capable of crushing bones. Their back teeth are specialized for grinding and tearing meat, making them efficient scavengers.

The physical appearance of the hyena is well-suited for their scavenging and hunting lifestyle, allowing them to withstand harsh conditions and compete for resources with other predators.

Behaviour: Hyena vs. African Wild Dog

The behavior of African wild dogs and hyenas differs in several ways. African wild dogs are highly social animals that live in large packs, whereas hyenas are also social but live in smaller groups or clans.

African wild dogs are skilled hunters that work together to catch their prey. They communicate with each other through a variety of vocalizations, such as yelps, growls, and whines. They also have a unique greeting ritual where they gather in a circle and vocalize before heading out to hunt. African wild dogs are known for their endurance and can run for long distances to wear down their prey.

In contrast, hyenas are more opportunistic hunters and scavengers. They have a reputation for being fierce and aggressive and will often steal food from other predators. They communicate with each other through a variety of vocalizations, including laughter-like calls that can be heard from miles away. Hyenas also have a strict hierarchy within their clan, with dominant females holding the highest rank.

African wild dogs and hyenas have different social structures, hunting strategies, and communication methods. These differences are shaped by their unique environments and evolutionary histories.


The habitat of hyenas and African wild dogs also differs significantly. African wild dogs are primarily found in open savannas, woodlands, and grasslands, while hyenas can adapt to a wider range of habitats, including savannas, forests, deserts, and mountains.

African wild dogs require large territories to hunt and roam, and they typically avoid areas with high human activity or settlements. They are also sensitive to habitat fragmentation and require connected areas of suitable habitat for their long-distance movements.

In contrast, hyenas are more adaptable to human-altered environments and can be found living in or near human settlements, including urban areas. They are opportunistic and can feed on a wide variety of food sources, including carrion, small mammals, and even fruits.

While both hyenas and African wild dogs can be found in savannas and other similar habitats, the African wild dog’s range is more limited due to its specific habitat requirements, while the hyena is more adaptable and can thrive in a wider range of environments.

Threats to Survival

African Wild Dog

The African wild dog faces several threats to its survival, making it one of the most endangered carnivores in Africa. Habitat loss and fragmentation are among the primary challenges for these remarkable creatures. As human populations expand and agricultural activities expand, wild dog populations often find themselves confined to smaller and isolated areas, limiting their access to prey and reducing genetic diversity.

Human-wildlife conflict poses another significant threat. African wild dogs are often perceived as threats to livestock, leading to retaliatory killings by farmers. This conflict exacerbates the already precarious situation for the species. Additionally, road accidents and incidental snaring intended for other animals also contribute to the decline of wild dog populations.

Diseases and parasites further endanger African wild dogs. They are susceptible to various infectious diseases, such as rabies and distemper, which can be transmitted by domestic dogs. This vulnerability is heightened in fragmented populations where contact with domestic animals is more likely. Disease outbreaks can decimate entire packs, causing significant population declines.

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Poaching and illegal wildlife trade have a detrimental impact on wild dogs as well. Their uniquely patterned fur makes them attractive targets for hunters, and their body parts are sometimes sought after for traditional medicine or as trophies. This illegal activity adds additional pressure on already struggling populations.

The overall small population size and low reproductive rates make African wild dogs particularly vulnerable to extinction. They have large home ranges and require vast areas to sustain viable populations. The combination of all these threats, along with their low genetic diversity, makes it challenging for them to recover from population declines.

Conservation efforts are crucial for the survival of African wild dogs. Initiatives focusing on habitat protection, community-based conservation, and education about the species’ ecological importance are vital. Additionally, measures to mitigate human-wildlife conflict, such as promoting livestock guarding dogs and improving fencing techniques, can help reduce confrontations with farmers. Disease monitoring and vaccination programs, as well as targeted anti-poaching efforts, are also essential to safeguard their populations. Through a combination of these measures, it is hoped that the African wild dog can be protected and its populations can recover, ensuring the long-term survival of this remarkable species.

The Hyena

Hyenas, specifically the African species such as the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), face a range of threats that jeopardize their survival. Habitat loss and fragmentation pose a significant challenge for these fascinating carnivores. As human populations expand and encroach upon natural habitats, hyenas are forced into smaller and more isolated areas, limiting their access to prey and diminishing their overall habitat quality.

Human-wildlife conflict is another pressing threat to hyena populations. They are often perceived as threats to livestock and occasionally pose risks to human safety. Consequently, hyenas are subjected to retaliatory killings by farmers and hunters, further intensifying the conflict. This conflict escalates the already precarious situation for the species and can result in significant population declines.

Poaching and illegal trade also impact hyenas. Their body parts are sometimes sought after for traditional medicine or as trophies, and their fur may be used in cultural practices. This illegal activity contributes to population declines and disrupts the ecological balance in their habitats.

Diseases and competition with other carnivores pose additional challenges. Hyenas are susceptible to various infectious diseases, including distemper and anthrax, which can significantly impact their populations. Moreover, they compete with other predators, such as lions and leopards, for food and space. This competition, combined with habitat loss, reduces their access to resources, making it more challenging for hyenas to survive.

Climate change is also emerging as a threat to hyenas. Alterations in weather patterns and ecosystems can impact prey availability, disrupt seasonal migration patterns, and affect the overall stability of the hyena’s habitat. As a result, their survival is further compromised.

Conservation efforts play a vital role in safeguarding hyena populations. Initiatives focused on habitat preservation, protected area management, and the promotion of coexistence between humans and hyenas are crucial. Public awareness campaigns highlighting the ecological importance of hyenas and their role as keystone species can help change negative perceptions and reduce human-wildlife conflict. Additionally, strong anti-poaching measures and enforcement of laws against illegal wildlife trade are essential to protect hyenas from further decline. By addressing these threats holistically, it is hoped that the hyena’s future can be secured, allowing these remarkable carnivores to continue playing their important role in African ecosystems.

FAQs- Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about African wild dogs:

What is an African wild dog?

The African wild dog, also known as the African painted dog or Cape hunting dog, is a medium-sized carnivorous mammal native to sub-Saharan Africa. It is known for its unique coat pattern of irregular patches of black, brown, white, and yellow fur.

How big are African wild dogs?

African wild dogs are typically about 75 to 110 centimeters (30 to 43 inches) long, excluding the tail, which adds an additional 30 to 45 centimeters (12 to 18 inches). They stand about 60 to 75 centimeters (24 to 30 inches) tall at the shoulder. Adult individuals weigh around 20 to 30 kilograms (44 to 66 pounds).

What do African wild dogs eat?

African wild dogs are primarily carnivorous hunters. They mainly feed on medium-sized ungulates like impalas and gazelles. However, they are opportunistic and may also prey on smaller mammals such as hares, rodents, and birds.

How do African wild dogs hunt?

African wild dogs are highly cooperative hunters. They live in packs and employ a unique hunting strategy. They work together to pursue and exhaust their prey over long distances, relying on their exceptional stamina. Once the prey is caught, they swiftly consume it, leaving little behind.

Are African wild dogs endangered?

Yes, African wild dogs are classified as an endangered species. Their population has significantly declined due to habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, diseases transmitted by domestic dogs, and poaching. It is estimated that only around 6,000 individuals remain in the wild.

How do African wild dogs communicate?

African wild dogs have a complex vocal repertoire that includes various vocalizations like whines, chirps, and growls. They also use body language, such as facial expressions, ear postures, and tail movements, to communicate within their pack during hunting, greeting, or signaling alarm.

How many pups do African wild dogs have?

African wild dogs typically have litters ranging from 4 to 16 pups, although the average litter size is around 6 to 8. The alpha female gives birth in an underground den, and the entire pack contributes to raising and caring for the pups.

Where can African wild dogs be found?

African wild dogs are found in scattered populations across sub-Saharan Africa. They inhabit savannas, grasslands, woodland areas, and scrublands. Some of the countries with remaining wild dog populations include Botswana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Kenya.

What is a hyena?

A hyena is a carnivorous mammal that belongs to the family Hyaenidae. They are known for their unique appearance, including a strong build, sloping back, powerful jaws, and distinct vocalizations.
How many species of hyenas are there?

There are four extant species of hyenas: the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), the brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea), the striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), and the aardwolf (Proteles cristata). The spotted hyena is the largest and most well-known species.
Where are hyenas found?

Hyenas are found in various habitats across Africa and parts of Asia. The spotted hyena has the widest distribution, occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, while the brown hyena is primarily found in southern Africa. The striped hyena ranges from North Africa to the Middle East, and the aardwolf is found in eastern and southern Africa.

What do hyenas eat?

Hyenas are primarily scavengers but are also skilled hunters. They have a varied diet that includes carrion, small to medium-sized mammals, birds, reptiles, and even insects. They are known for their powerful jaws and ability to consume bones and tough hides.

Are hyenas dangerous to humans?

Hyenas are generally not considered a significant threat to humans. While they are large and powerful carnivores, they are typically not aggressive toward humans unless provoked or threatened. However, it is important to exercise caution and respect their wild nature when encountering them in their natural habitats.

Do hyenas laugh?

The vocalizations of hyenas are often described as “laughter.” It is a unique vocalization that can be heard during social interactions, such as feeding, greeting, or communicating with other members of their group. It serves as a form of communication and can convey different meanings.

How do hyenas live?

Hyenas are highly social animals that live in hierarchical groups known as clans. These clans can consist of several individuals, usually led by a dominant female. They have complex social structures, communicate through vocalizations and body language, and work together during hunting and raising their young.

Can hyenas be domesticated or kept as pets?

Hyenas are wild animals and are not suitable as domesticated pets. They have specific behavioral and dietary needs that cannot be met in a domestic environment. Additionally, in many countries, it is illegal to keep hyenas as pets due to their conservation status and potential risks to public safety.

Are hyenas endangered?

The conservation status of hyena species varies. The striped hyena is listed as near threatened, while the brown hyena is considered near threatened to vulnerable. The spotted hyena is the most abundant species and is currently listed as least concern. However, habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, and illegal hunting can pose threats to their populations.