They say every dog has his day, but that’s definitely a bigger challenge on the continent of Africa, where big cats rule a good portion of the upper food chain. Sometimes referred to as African hunting dogs or African painted dogs, these wild dogs are considered endangered and although found through parts of sub-Saharan Africa, they are not found through nearly as much of their original habitat as they used to be.
A Truly Unique Type Of Dog
There are five sub-species of the African Wild Dog and they are from the genus Lycaon as opposed to the Canis genus that most people are more familiar with when it comes to dogs and the canine family. These are highly social types of dogs and they often travel in large packs – which is also a great benefit to survival in such a harsh wild continent.
The average pack size will be four to five dogs, sometimes with many young puppies abounding, but there have been packs that were up to a full 25 or more adults dogs in total.
These dogs are considered specialized predators on the African continent and they tend to feed on medium and small sized antelopes. While these are the preferred food for a pack, which hunts much in the same way a wolf pack does, they will take on other medium sized prey when hunger and the need to feed the pack arises. Rodents, rabbits/hares, and birds can all become the next meal, and even more dangerous prey like warthogs, cane rats, and porcupines are all on the menu if the dogs are hungry enough and there isn’t much else in the area.
There have been massive declines in the population of African wild dogs. Some of the normal factors are at work here such as human persecution through hunting and trapping and a shrinking habitat. This is compounded by the fact that the growth of cities and the Saharan desert has led to the habitat being fragmented, isolating populations in smaller and smaller areas where food and free range continue to contract.
However, in some areas the natural population seemed to hit a tipping point where normal predators outnumber them enough to become a larger problem than they would be in a balanced ecosystem. With diminishing populations and being cut off from larger habitats, one of their few natural predators, lions, can put a serious dent in the local population of wild dogs – and each loss of a member makes the rest of the pack just that much more vulnerable.
Hyenas can also be a huge issue, not because they attack packs of dogs that often, but more because they can overpower small packs and steal any prey they’ve managed to kill. This combination in an area of lions and hyenas can be devastating on low wild dog populations.
In addition to all this, a few major disease outbreaks have been especially harmful to the local populations of African wild dogs, further weakening the healthy packs and animals that are alive.
These animals are found scattered throughout Africa, although in certain areas like Botswana there are enough of them protected in parks to give some encouragement to their future in that specific area. While more work needs to be done to protect them, efforts are being made by a number of nations to protect the limited populations they have there.
You have to be strong as an animal if you’re going to survive your place in the food chain on a continent like Africa, and packs of African wild dogs certainly have a lot to compete with. While dogs might be above cats in most ecosystems, that definitely isn’t going to fly throughout most of Africa where a variety of big cats, including prides of lions, are going to be much higher up on the food chain.
That being said, these wild dogs have been resilient and while they seem in a very tenuous position in many places, in others they have the numbers, the habitat, and the protection to possibly make a comeback and thrive. This is an incredibly interesting animal, and it deserves a long healthy future on the plains of Africa.