African wild dogs are the size of medium domestic dogs. Their Latin name, Lycaon pictus, means “painted wolf-like animal.” Their coats are mottled in shades of brown, black and beige.
They have large, rounded ears and dark brown circles around their eyes. The dogs differ from wolves and other dogs in that they have four toes instead of five.
It is also called the Painted Hunting Dog, African Hunting Dog, the Cape Hunting Dog, the Spotted Dog, or the Painted Wolf in English, Wildehond in Afrikaans, and Mbwa mwitu in Swahili.
The average African wild dog weighs between 37 and 80 pounds and measures 24 to 30 inches high.
Between 2,000 and 5,000 of these dogs remain in the wild, mostly in game preserves or national parkas and African wild dogs can live up to 10 years.
African wild dogs are only found in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Savannas, grasslands and open woodlands are the preferred habitats of African wild dogs.
African wild dogs hunt antelope, zebras, wildebeest, springboks, gazelles and impala.
African wild dogs live and hunt in groups called packs. Packs typically include an alpha (dominant) male and female, their offspring and other related members.
Historically, more than 100 dogs gathered in packs during spring migrations, but today the average pack of African wild dogs contains approximately 10 members. Unlike other canine species, packs of wild dogs frequently contain more male members than female members.
Normally only the alpha male and female reproduce, while other members of the pack help care for the young. Pups are born every year, usually from March through June.
A litter may contain as many as 16 pups, although infant mortality is high.
African wild dogs face a number of serious threats, including habitat loss, human persecution (hunting and poisoning), disease spread from domestic animals and isolated populations.
A study established that the African Wild Dog had a Bite Force Quotient of 142, the highest of any extant mammal of the order Carnivora. The BFQ is essentially the strength of bite as measured against the animal’s mass.
Female African wild dogs will disperse from their birth pack at 14–30 months of age and join other packs that lack sexually mature females. Males typically do not leave the pack they were born to.
This is the opposite situation to that in most other social mammals, where a group of related females forms the core of the group or similar group. In the African Wild Dog, the females compete for access to males that will help to rear their offspring.
In a typical group, males outnumber females by a factor of two to one, and only the dominant female is usually able to rear pups.
This unusual situation may have evolved to ensure that packs do not over-extend themselves by attempting to rear too many litters at the same time.
The species is also unusual in that other members of the group including males may be left to guard the pups whilst the mother joins the hunting group; the requirement to leave adults behind to guard the pups may decrease hunting efficiency in smaller groups.