African Wild Dogs – Spotted Phantoms

Highly Endangered – Effective Predators – Stunningly Beautiful

The African Wild Dog, Lycaon pictus (means ‘wolf-like, painted’), is without a doubt one of the most fascinating animals that roam the African wilderness.

They are highly endangered, with only around 450 truly free-roaming (wild) animals in South Africa today. Sadly, they have disappeared from most of their natural habitat range. One of the four free-ranging populations in SA occurs in Limpopo, and this is the area where Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation  is supporting a new research project to help save them from extinction.

These amazing animals are dying out as a result of habitat loss, human persecution and the outbreak of disease. They are mercilessly killed by subsistence and livestock farmers as a result of human – wildlife conflict.

Wild Dogs are highly social animals, with strong family bonds and a firmly established hierarchy. There are typically an Alpha Male and Alpha Female who rule the pack, separately ‘ruling’ over members of their gender. All other members of the pack are subservient to them.

The African wild dog is the bulkiest and most solidly built of African canids, standing 60–75 cm (24–30 in) in shoulder height, and weighs 20–25 kg (44–55 lb) in East Africa and up to 30 kg (66 lb) in Southern Africa.

Hunting typically starts at dawn or dusk, and is preceded by an elaborate greeting ritual involving lots of woops, licking and tail-wagging.

They are highly specialised diurnal hunter of antelopes, which get caught by chasing them to exhaustion. Highly effective, they hunt by approaching prey silently, then chasing it in a pursuit of up to 66 kilometres per hour (41 mph) for 10 to 60 minutes.

The same reason that makes these dogs such amazing predators, is one of the contributing factors to their disappearance – they are just such effective hunters, and need to eat much more per capita than e.g. lions. This makes livestock a prime target for them.

The African wild dog is a fast eater, with a pack being able to consume a Thompson’s gazelle in 15 minutes. In the wild, the species’ consumption rate is of 1.2–5.9 kg meat per wild dog a day, with one pack of 17–43 specimens in East Africa having been recorded to kill three animals per day on average. The young are allowed to feed first on the carcasses.


The African wild dog is a highly successful hunter. Nearly 80% of all wild dog hunts end in a kill; for comparison, the success rate of lions, often viewed as ultimate predators, is only 10%

Certain packs in the Serengeti specialized in hunting zebras in preference to other prey.  One pack was recorded to occasionally prey on bat-eared foxes rolling on the carcasses before eating them.  Hyenas sometimes act as kleptoparasites by stealing food that the Wild Dogs hunted.

Wild Dogs appoint ‘nannies’ to look after their young when they go hunting. They would then bring the carers and babies food by regurgitating some of the meat so their family can eat.

The gestation period lasts 69–73 days, with the interval between each pregnancy being 12–14 months on average. The African wild dog produces more pups than any other canid, with litters containing around 6–16 pups, with an average of 10, thus indicating that a single female can produce enough young to form a new pack every year.

Because the amount of food necessary to feed more than two litters would be impossible to acquire by the average pack, breeding is strictly limited to the dominant female, which may kill the pups of subordinates.

The San of Botswana see the African wild dog as the ultimate hunter, and traditionally believe that shamans and medicine men can transform themselves into the wild dog. Some San hunters will smear African wild dog bodily fluids on their feet before a hunt, believing that doing so will gift them with the animal’s boldness and agility.

There is only one of the factors contributing to their demise that we are in a position to address. With the Wild Heart Wild Dog Project we are attempting to develop a practical deterrent to prevent Wild Dogs from attacking livestock. As it is still in the fledgling stage, we can only say that it would involve ultrasonic sound frequencies.

If successful, this could be the solution to protect other endangered predators from human wildlife conflict as well.

This project is crucially important to the continued existence of these precious predators in the wild. We are working closely with the Legend Wildlife & Education Centre, who also hosts the crucially important ‘The Rhino Orphanage’. (Ongoing support to TRO’s Rhino Orphans is one of our main functions, and you can support us by clicking on this link; (Wild Dog Project/Rhino Orphanage).

Wild heart Wildlife Foundation was proud to have supplied the new game fencing  below, to help with this important Wild Dog project.

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