The African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus), also known as the Cape Hunting Dog or Painted Wolf, is one of the most special animals one can be privileged enough to see on safari. Most safari goers are often unfamiliar with Wild Dogs as many will associate the safari experience with seeing the Big 5. But it is time to take look at why seeing African Wild Dogs on your safari should be just as special, if not more so than seeing any of the Big 5.
The Wild dog is Africa's second most endangered large carnivore. With fewer than 5,500 free roaming Wild Dogs in the wild, and even fewer still 450 remaining in South Africa, these animals make for a rare and fortunate find on safari.
Wild Dogs are the only local candid (dog species) to have developed a pack system. Moving in packs is considered an advanced form of social organisation. In wild species it is the exception rather than the norm. Moving in packs has probably developed as a more efficient way of procuring prey, improving reproductive success and defensive capabilities. A Wild Dog pack is led by a dominant pair, known as the alphas. The alpha pair is also in most cases the only pair to breed, and they will lead a pack of 12-30 dogs. There is also a beta male and female which sit next in the hierarchy to the alpha pair. If something were to happen to one of the alpha dogs, the beta animal will automatically take over. The beta dogs do sometimes breed but the pups are usually killed or stolen by the alpha female.
All male dogs in the pack are related and they stay in the natal pack while the females emigrate. This is an excellent way to prevent inbreeding. Non-breeding individuals in the pack take turns to perform different functions. “Den guards "are stationed around the breeding den to protect young pups from predators passing by. Other dogs join the hunting group to secure food to provide for the pups and other members left at the den. All the adults will provide and care for the pups within the pack, as well as members who are unable to hunt due to injury or age.
Wild Dogs make use of disused Aardvark holes/burrows as den sites. Litters of between 7-10 pups are born blind and helpless (altricial). Denning time usually coincides with the end of the Impala rut (breeding season). At this time there are large numbers of out of condition Impala rams exhausted by intense territorial and breeding activity. There are also concentrations of animals around waterholes and with the open veld in the dry season making for ideal hunting circumstance's. The pack will carry meat back in their stomachs where they regurgitate solid chunks to feed the pups and other pack members at the den. After being sedentary for 3 months, the pups will be big enough to start moving with the rest of the pack.
Temporary dens are used for some time still but are often changed to prevent parasite build up around the dens. In order to follow abundant game herds and to avoid confrontation with other larger predators like Lions, the dogs will be nomadic occupying home ranges of 200-1000 square kilometers in size.
Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve has to be one of the very best reserves to witness Wild Dogs while in KwaZulu Natal. Should you be doing a self drive safari then it is advisable to travel into the Umfolozi side of the reserve as sightings of Wild Dogs are higher. Alternatively one may join a organised Big 5 Safari into the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park For More