Wild Dog Facts

Common names

English: African wild dog, Painted dog, Painted wolf, Cape hunting dog
Afrikaans: Wildehond
isiZulu: nKentshane
Shangaan: maHlolwa


The wild dog is a 20-25 kg, slightly built, highly social carnivore (Creel & Creel 1995; Woodroffe et al. 2004). Wild dogs can reach running speeds while hunting of over 60 km/hr (Creel & Creel 1995). Wild dog coat patterns are individually unique and highly variable combining black, white and varying shades of brown (Woodroffe et al. 2004). The ears are large and black, a black line runs along the saggital crest and the tails are usually predominantly white. The white tail portion is believed to assist with maintaining visual contact among the pack when moving through thick bush, tall grass or during crepuscular activities (Estes & Goddard 1967). Wild dogs lack dew claws on the front limbs and the pads on the second and third toes are usually partially fused (Creel & Creel 2002). Packs average 13 adults and the trend is towards a male bias in sex ratio (Fuller et al. 1992a; Maddock & Mills 1994). This may relate to the increased survival rate of males compared with females (Creel & Creel 2002). A pack usually comprises a dominant breeding pair, subordinate non-breeding adults and subordinate offspring of the alpha pair (Girman et al. 1997). However, recent research indicates that shared breeding with subordinates within a pack appears to be more common among wild dogs than was previously thought (Spiering et al. 2010).


Tracks are similar to a large domestic dog with four toes each showing a clear claw print. Tracks are approximately 70-80 mm long and 50-60mm wide. Tracks are frequently confused with those of domestic dogs or spotted hyaenas Crocuta crocuta, yet tend to be more symmetrical in shape when compared to the other species. In soft substrate the partial fusion of the base of the two front toe pads is noticeable.




Wild dogs are classified in the family Canidae. As the only remaining representatives in the genus Lycaon they are phylogenetically unique (Martinez-Navarro & Rook 2003). Wild dogs from East and southern Africa were previously considered to be a distinct sub-species. However, despite genetic and morphological research indicating some regional differences among populations, the features are not sufficiently distinct to merit sub-species classification (Girman et al. 1997; Woodroffe et al. 1997).


Wild dogs were once distributed throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa (Figure 1). However, a distribution status review in 1997 suggests they have been extirpated from 25 of their former 39 range states (Figure 2; Woodroffe et al. 1997). Viable populations, those which are genetically diverse enough for a population to persist, remain in several countries in southern and eastern Africa, with the largest occurring in northern Botswana, western Zimbabwe, eastern Namibia, north-eastern South Africa, northern Mozambique, southern Tanzania and central Kenya (Woodroffe et al. 1997; Woodroffe et al. 2004).
In South Africa, the wild dog population in the Kruger National Park is currently considered to be the only viable population. The remaining populations in South Africa, which primarily occur within fenced reserves, are spatially isolated from each other as a result of land use changes and the consequent habitat fragmentation in their former range. These populations are collectively managed as a metapopulation within which intermittent emigration or immigration is simulated through actively translocating individuals, single-sex groups or packs, to conserve genetic diversity (Lindsey & Mills 2004).
Current reserves in the metapopulation network are Madikwe, Pilanesberg and Khamab in the North West province, Tswalu in the Northern Cape province, and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, Mkhuze, Thanda, Hlambanyathi and Tembe in KwaZulu-Natal province. Populations of wild dogs do also occur outside of formally protected areas in South Africa although these appear to be limited to the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces.


Figure 1: The historical range of wild dogs (AMD 2010).


 Figure 2: The distribution and status of wild dogs in southern and East Africa in 2009 (AMD 2010).

Conservation Status

Wild dogs are classified as Endangered by the IUCN. In South Africa, management of wild dogs is governed by the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (Act No. 10 of 2004) (NEMBA) and by the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) regulations (Van der Linde 2006). TOPS regulations classify wild dogs as endangered.


Wild dogs are cooperative breeders in which socially subordinate adults assist with rearing of the offspring (Creel et al. 1998; Spiering et al. 2010). It has generally been considered that wild dogs are monogamous and breeding is restricted to a dominant pair (McNutt 1996a; Girman et al. 1997). However, subordinate females do sometimes breed successfully (Moueix 2006; Spiering et al. 2010). Recent genetic studies have indicated the existence of multiple sires among pups in a single pack (Woodroffe et al. 2004; Moueix 2006; Spiering et al. 2010).
Wild dogs breed seasonally, usually settling at a den site in May-June towards the end of a gestation which is approximately 70 days (Woodroffe
et al. 2004). Litter sizes average 8-12pups but can be as many as 21 (Fuller et al. 1992a). If a subordinate female gives birth, these pups are either combined in a communal den where suckling is shared amongst the females (Fuller et al. 1992a; Courchamp & MacDonald 2001) or she is socially excluded until such point as she cannot maintain her pups and they perish.
During early lactation the mother is generally confined to the den and is provisioned with regurgitated meat by members of the pack (Fuller
et al. 1992a; Courchamp & MacDonald 2001; Woodroffe et al. 2004). Pups will begin to consume meat within four weeks of birth (Woodroffe et al. 2004). Pups can continue to be fed with regurgitated meat, or with pieces of a carcass brought to the pups for two to three months (Malcom & Marten 1982; Woodroffe et al. 2004). Such cooperative behaviour plays a significant role in increasing pup survival and may facilitate the large litter sizes (Malcom & Marten 1982; Burrows 1995; Courchamp & MacDonald 2001). Nevertheless, pup mortalities average 50% in most populations (Woodroffe et al. 2004).

Dispersal Behaviour

Packs are normally formed when same-sex dispersing groups (usually siblings) leave their natal pack and join with dispersing, unrelated, groups of the opposite sex (Maddock & Mills 1994; Courchamp & MacDonald 2001; McCreery & Robbins 2001; Woodroffe et al. 2004). This occurs when animals are approximately one and a half to two years of age (Fuller et al. 1992a; Fuller et al. 1992b). Factors such as food availability and natal pack composition likely influence the rate and composition of dispersal groups (Fuller et al. 1992a). Dispersing groups have been recorded travelling up to 450km before finding appropriate mates and forming a new pack with which to establish a home range territory.


Wild dogs are opportunistic carnivores using a cursorial, cooperative hunting strategy to chase down prey (Krüger et al. 1999; Lindsey et al. 2004a; Hayward et al. 2006). Such a pack hunting strategy can enable metabolic requirements to be met by hunting larger prey than could be caught by an individual wild dog (Fanshawe & Fitzgibbon 1993; Hayward et al. 2006).
Killing of prey is primarily through disembowelment (Hayward
et al. 2006). Wild dogs feed predominantly upon the most abundant medium sized (16-32 kg) or large (120-140 kg) antelope available, although they are able to subsist off smaller prey such as dik-dik Madoqua kirkii and hares (Lindsey et al. 2004a; Hayward et al. 2006; Woodroffe et al. 2007). The bimodal classification of preferred prey weights reflects the foraging success, and energetic cost-benefit dynamics of wild dog packs in relation to varying pack sizes (Hayward et al. 2006).
A pack size of 12-14 adults maximizes the daily kilograms killed per dog per kilometre chased (Creel 1997a). Geographic variations in prey preference have been associated with regional prey abundance (Ginsberg & Macdonald 1990). In for example, KwaZulu-Natal nyala Tragelaphus angasii and impala Aepyceros melampus are the prey species favoured by wild dogs (Krüger
et al. 1999; Lindsey et al. 2004a; Hayward et al. 2006) whereas in the Kruger National Park impala and kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros are the preferred prey (Lindsey et al. 2004a).

Conservation challenges

Wild dog populations have declined across the continent as a result of increasingly fragmented habitat, an expanding human population and through direct persecution both within and outside of protected areas (Fuller et al. 1992b; Woodroffe et al. 1997; Andreka et al. 1999; Maddock 1999; Rasmussen 1999; Creel & Creel 2002; Davies & Du Toit 2004; Lindsey et al. 2004a; Lindsey et al. 2004b).
Increased habitat fragmentation can increase a population’s susceptibility to stochastic, catastrophic events and can lead to an increasing number of encounters with domestic dogs infected with diseases such as rabies, or may result in a reduction of genetic diversity through inbreeding (Fuller
et al. 1992b; Kat et al. 1995; Woodroffe et al. 1997).
Wild dogs occur at lower densities than competing carnivores such as lions Panthera leo and spotted hyaenas Crocuta crocuta, and are susceptible to edge effects such as vehicle collisions, snaring and diseases because of their wide ranging behaviour (Lindsey
et al. 2004b; Woodroffe & Ginsberg 1999a). The highest priority for wild dog conservation is considered to be the maintenance of contiguous, suitable landscapes and the mitigation of lethal edge effects (Fuller et al. 1992b; Kat et al. 1995; Woodroffe et al. 1997; Mills et al. 1998; Woodroffe & Ginsberg 1999a; Rasmussen 1999; Creel & Creel 2002; Davies & Du Toit 2004; Woodroffe et al. 2004).