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African Wild Dogs

Two wild dogs stand near dead impala

Five Reasons to Love Wild Dogs

By African Wild Dogs

If the average safari-goer were to rank the species they most desire to see, African wild dogs usually wouldn’t even rank in the top three.

Sure, they’re not the ‘prettiest’ of predators, and up-close they can be a bit stinky, but here’s a little safari secret for you: many game rangers, conservationists, and researchers would rank wild dogs as the number one species that they enjoy watching in the African bush. In fact, when the Zululand Rhino Reserve – Manyoni Private Game Reserve – became home to a pack of wild dogs not too long ago, the dogs quickly became a firm favourite with the guides at Rhino River Lodge, and subsequently, our guests.

Here are five reasons to love wild dogs and why they should be at the top of your game-viewing list:

Bouncing balls of energy

Lions are often the first thing most people on safari want to see. However, what most people don’t always realise, is that lions can be spectacularly lazy and spend much of their time lying around. While we love to see lions on game drives, wild dogs provide a stark contrast from a game viewing perspective. With seemingly boundless energy, wild dogs can cover very large distances, sometimes daily. They also hunt more frequently than other predators and are incredibly social; even rest times can be filled with exciting social interactions.

Small group of wild dogs playing in a game reserve in South Africa

Complex social structure

Wild dogs live in packs that are usually formed when a group of related females join up with a group of related males. The pack has a strict dominance hierarchy with an alpha pair (a male and female) at the very top. This hierarchy can shift through time and wild dogs spend much of their day strengthening their social bonds with one another and reinforcing their dominance hierarchy. Spending time with a pack of wild dogs allows for a fascinating insight into the complex social lives of these animals.

Two wild dogs stand near dead impala

Entirely unique species

There is no other species quite like wild dogs. From their enormous home ranges and their hunting methods to their social structure, cooperative breeding and unique social behaviours, wild dogs are an incredibly interesting species. How many other animals do you know of that include handstands among their behavioural repertoire? Even within a single pack, each dog is unique, which means every pack has an entirely different dynamic. As if that isn’t enough, each wild dog is individually identifiable with a unique coat pattern of striking tan, black and white.

reasons to love wild dogs

Furry familiarity

While, as mentioned, wild dogs are a unique species, there is still just enough ‘doggy-ness’ to remind us of our furry four-legged companions at home. Their big ears, energetic enthusiasm, and commitment to their pack makes them very endearing to humans. And wild dog puppies are possibly the cutest thing you would ever hope to see.

Big group of wild dogs playing in a game reserve in South Africa

Highly endangered

African wild dogs are incredibly rare. In fact, they are the second most endangered carnivore species on the African continent. They require large home ranges, high densities of prey and have a knack for breaking out of protected areas and getting into conflict with humans by eating livestock, making them difficult to manage and protect. They are also very susceptible to poachers’ snares. Combine all this with wild dogs’ complex social situation, and you’ll understand how managing the species has become one of the biggest conservation challenges in South Africa. Their dogged determination and resilience have served them well but they still face serious threats and challenges.

Pair of wild dogs playing in a game reserve South Africa

We consider ourselves very lucky to get to spend time with a pack of wild dogs on a regular basis. At times, the wild dogs will even spend time on the Rhino River Lodge property, even occasionally running through camp! A very special treat indeed.

The African Wild Dog

By African Wild Dogs, Conservation

wild dogs manyoni private game reserve

When children become interested in wildlife and conservation, it’s not only extremely heart-warming but also so encouraging to see the next generation getting involved from such a young age. 

This is why we were so touched when we recently received an essay about African wild dogs written by one of our guests due to visit the lodge soon, Hope Mckay. At just 12 years old, Hope has already developed a keen interest in wildlife conservation. Her mum, Lorna, said: “Hope’s excitement about the reserve, our stay, and adventure in South Africa has been hugely increased by having a personal interest in the pack, it is lovely to watch her interest in conservation grow.”  

Here is Hope’s essay:

Endangered Species: The African Wild Dog

“The Lycaon Pictus more commonly called the Painted Wolf or wild dog, are the second most endangered carnivore on the planet, with approximately only 5000 left in the wild.

Wild dogs live in forest, grassland and desert areas. The largest population is found in Southern Africa and in smaller numbers the southern part of East Africa but are rarely seen due to their lack of numbers.

Wild dog’s scientific name is Lycaon Pictus meaning painted wolf because of their mottled fur with black, brown, yellow and white colourings. Their coats are unique which helps tell them apart. Wild dogs have long legs, they only have four toes on their front feet whilst other dogs have five. Wild dogs are 29.5-43 inches tall and weigh between 39.5-79 pounds. Their life span is 11 years. Even though their names are wild dogs or painted wolfs they are actually not dogs or wolves they belong to the Canidae family. This family contains dog-like carnivores.

Fight for Survival
Wild dogs are very sociable towards each other and live in packs of six to twenty and their alpha is a female. To find food they need to travel far distances. Wild dogs are skilled hunters they hunt in groups and communicate through a variety of vocalisations, movements, and touch to catch their prey. Their prey includes wildebeest, antelope, warthogs, rats and birds. Wild dogs have one of the highest hunting success rates with 85% success. They sometimes find it hard to keep their kill because other predators try to steal it like lions, cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas. These predators also kill wild dogs they are their predators. The reason why these predators steal food from the wild dogs is that wild dogs hunt in such a unique way which gives them more chance of catching their prey. So, the other predators don’t have to try as hard and can just take the kill from the wild dogs. Once their packs alpha dies the pack splits up to make new ones.

Wild Dogs are endangered
Wild dogs are the second most endangered carnivore on the planet. This is because of multiple reasons. Habitat loss because of farmers gaining more land. They sometimes come into human contact so they can get diseases from domestic dogs like rabies. Farmers are a big problem because they kill wild dogs and blame them for attacks on livestock. They are sometimes shot or poisoned as well. Wild dogs are already extinct from northern Africa. The best way to increase wild dog numbers is to stop habitat fragmentation which is a large continuous habitat broken into smaller patches which decrease the area for available prey this is caused by increased human activities such as farming and construction.

South Africa
I am going to South Africa in the summer and I am hoping to see Wild Dogs, but it is unlikely because of the lack of numbers. One of the game reserves I am going to is The Manyoni private game reserve in KwaZulu Natal. Manyoni has lots of conservation initiatives that focus on the protection of endangered animals, this includes wild dogs. The reserve is determined to increase the numbers of wild dogs and help them to survive because there are less than 400 wild dogs left in South Africa. Manyoni reserve has recently introduced a new pack of wild dogs hoping to give them the best chance of survival. They bonded 3 of their female dogs with male dogs from another local reserve in Zululand for 3 months. In February of this year they released the new pack into the reserve. The local Zulu Indunas (chiefs) were invited and given the opportunity to name the pack. They called the pack Siyavikela which in Zulu means “we protect”. I will be staying in the reserve at the Rhino River Lodge in July and I am really looking forward to meeting the local rangers and learning about how the pack is getting on. This is winter in South Africa so wild dogs are rarely seen as it is denning season where if the pack have pups, they will stay within their den to look after them. I would have to be very lucky to get to see any of them but if they do have pups, I will be very happy, and might just have to visit again in summer.

To finish wild dogs are amazing animals because of their appearance, hunting techniques and more. We must remember that their numbers are going down and they might not be here on this planet soon. We can help the wild dogs and other endangered animals by raising awareness and charitable donations.”

Written by Hope McKay, 12 years old