Also known as the African hunting dog and painted dog, the African wild dog (lycaon pictus) is the largest canid in Africa and the most endangered after the rare Ethiopian wolf. It lives in highly effective hunting packs of five to 50 individuals dominated by a monogamous breeding pair. Each dog has a unique coat pattern with red, yellow, brown, black and white patches.
They hunt in formidable, cooperative packs of up to 20 or more dogs, preying on antelope and braving to tackle much larger prey, such as wildebeests, mainly if their mark is ill or injured. The wild dogs supplement their diet with rodents and birds.
African hunting dogs are highly effective hunters and were once widely distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Hunted as vermin and highly susceptible to epidemics spread by domestic dogs, hunting dogs today have a very localized and scattered distribution pattern, with dwindling numbers barely making 1,409 grown individuals and listed as endangered under criteria C2a-(i), on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2012.
Where to find African hunting dogs
The African hunting dog is locally extinct in roughly half the countries it once inhabited, including Uganda. Though unlikely, Recolonization is not impossible since hunting dogs are great wanderers. Fortunately, small populations still survive in parts of western Tanzania and Kenya.
There are unreliable reported sightings of the African hunting dog around Kidepo Valley National Park in Uganda. The species ranges between Southern Sudan, Northern Kenya and northeastern Uganda.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the African wild dog occurred in Queen Elizabeth National Park and the adjacent Virunga National Park, but authorities in the area at the time had the policy to kill the wild dogs as vermins. As a result, the species disappeared from the Greater Virunga Landscape.
With rising numbers of prey species in the landscape, it would be worth undertaking a feasibility study to reintroduce this species to the landscape.
Habitat and Ecology
African Hunting Dog is a generalist predator, occupying many habitats, including short-grass plains, semi-desert, bushy savannas and upland forests.
While early studies in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, led to a belief that the African wild dog is primarily an open plains species, more recent data indicate it reaches its highest densities in thicker bush. For Example, in Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania; Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe; and northern Botswana.
It appears that its current distribution is limited primarily by human activities and prey availability rather than by the loss of a specific habitat type.
In contrast, the wild dog weighs 20–30 kg. Yet, its prey averages around 50 kilos and may be as large as 200 kg.
African Wild Dogs also take tiny prey such as hares, lizards and even eggs, but these contribute very little to their diet.