Habitat – varied, from open grassland to scrub forest, desert, and mountainous regions
Niche – social pack hunter
Favorite Food – gazelle
Length – up to 4 feet, nose to tail tip
Weight – up to 80 pounds
Status – Endangered
Threats – habitat destruction, hunting, disease
African wild dogs are pack hunters, using cunning and strength in numbers to take down large prey like wildebeest on the open grasslands of East Africa. Although they are smaller than gray wolves, another well-known pack hunter, they are perhaps the most social dogs on earth, and use their developed behaviors to take down prey faster and larger than themselves. The packs average about 7 or 8 individuals, but some can grow as large as 20. Because of the size of the packs and their wide movement, African wild dogs hunt at least once a day to snare enough food.
Few predators are as formidable as a pack of African wild dogs. Individuals can run at sustained speeds of over 30 miles per hour for up to 3 miles without tiring. Their endurance is matched with an uncanny ability to execute intricate plans of attack, especially to catch animals that evade lead dogs. Usually the packs will attack smaller mammals like gazelles, but occasionally will take on large animals like zebra and wildebeest. When attacking the latter, the dogs will charge a herd in an attempt to separate the weak or sick individuals. Moving in, they will clamp down on the prey’s tail and lip, while other members of the pack bite at its underside to bring it down.
Like gray wolves, African wild dogs exhibit a strict hierarchy within the pack, with a dominant male and female seated at the top. However, these dogs are different in that there are twice as many males as females and all the males are related to each other in a pack. The dominant male gets mating rights and mating usually only occurs between him and the dominant female. Simultaneous births of litters do occur and when they do, they threaten the bonds of the pack. During these situations, fights break out and females battle each other for the right to raise the next generation, which often results in the youngsters being torn to pieces in the fight. Unlike other social dogs in the wild, the aggression with African wild dogs is usually confined to the females of the pack rather than the males.
After decades of persecution, habitat loss, and disease, the remaining populations of African wild dogs are scattered and thin. There are now fewer than 10,000 African wild dogs left in their natural habitat. Aside from their considerable natural adaptability, the one hope remaining for these amazing mammals is a strong conservation effort.