Spotted Dogs Of Kruger National Park
The African wild dog is known by many names, including Cape hunting dog or painted dog. Its scientific name, Lycaon pictus, means “painted wolf. This mammal has a colourful, patchy coat, large bat-like ears, and a bushy tail with a white tip that may serve as a flag to keep the pack in contact while hunting. No two wild dogs are marked the same, making it easy to identify individuals.
These long-legged canines have only four toes per foot, unlike other dogs, which have five toes on their forefeet. African wild dogs are among the most successful social hunters in Africa. They have dagger-like teeth, designed for eating meat, and when hunting prey, their bodies cool down after running as fast as 37 miles per hour (60 kph).
A hunt begins at sunrise or sunset when the dogs perform an elaborate greeting ceremony, sniffing and licking each other, wagging their tails and twittering aloud. They make a range of chattering sounds and have a distinctive long-distance greeting call that can be heard up to four kilometers away. During the hunt itself, however, they are silent.
Wild dogs will fan through the bush looking for a herd of antelope. Often, this will be impala. Once they have located a herd, the most vulnerable member is singled out. A subordinate male wild dog usually starts the hunt by trying to isolate the animal from the rest of the herd. Once the target has been identified and separated, the alpha male takes over the lead of the hunt and the deadly endurance race begins.
Wild dogs are high-stamina hunters, capable of maintaining a 40km/h pace over five kilometers and increasing this to bursts of more than 60km/h for short distances. The pack splits up during the hunt, with some dogs trying to drive the fleeing prey in a circle towards the others.
If this fails, they press on with determination, taking it in relays to increase the pace, nipping and tearing at the fleeing victim each time it slows down. They literally run their quarry to exhaustion. Once the animal collapses, the dogs immediately begin feeding. The young feed first, followed by the subordinate males and females, with the alpha pair eating at any time. Each dog awaits its turn, and if there is not enough food to go round, the hunt begins again. Wild Dogs prey mainly on small to medium sized animals, of which the Impala is their favorite prey. In East Africa they have been recorded to hunt prey as large as Wildebeest and Zebra.
Packs are made up of relatives. All members help rear pups born to the dominant male and female. The packs, which average 9 to 10 adults plus juveniles, are extremely social. Both males and females leave the pack where they were born, but males tend to disperse a year after females and travel farther to new territories. Females in the pack are closely related to each other as are the males. However, males and females in the pack are not closely related to each other.
African wild dogs have a complex communication system that includes both vocalizing and scent marking. The dominant pair marks their territory with feces and urine. Members of a pack use quiet but high frequency sounds to communicate. Their whines, tweets, and yelps sound like birdcalls. The dominant pair howls to signal intruders or a nearby pack. They emit a “hoo” sound to gather their dispersed pack or to find a lost member.
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. They make 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.
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.
Wild Dog Breeding
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.
Wild Dog Population
Being one of the most endangered mammals in the world with a population of approximately 6000 worldwide. There are 4 populations in Africa, one of which is in the Kruger National Park. There are an estimated 300 – 350 dogs across the park and their numbers have increased from only 120 in 2009, thanks to conservation efforts. Their home range varies from 200 and 1000 square kilometers per pack. With the Kruger being over 5 million hectares, it is not only rare but also a treat to see them. The wild dog is a charismatic and exciting animal and top of the list for anyone visiting the Kruger National Park. The species is still under threat due to human-animal conflict in the form of snares and habitat loss. Hopefully, with more conservation efforts, their numbers will continue to increase inside the national parks and game reserves.