Just a century ago their numbers were close to half a million, but today less than 5,000 African wild dogs remain, making them one of the continent’s most endangered species. If you’re on safari in one of the four countries where these big-eared, multicolored dogs still roam and witness a pack hunting, consider yourself incredibly lucky.
Here are 15 things you didn’t know about African wild dogs.
This article originally appeared on AFKInsider.com.
1. African wild dogs are unique to Africa
Also called painted dogs, African wild dogs, are a species that is only found in Africa. They trace their lineage back 40 million years.
2. Less than 5,000 survive today
African wild dogs have a distinct evolutionary line, and are one of the African continent’s rarest species. Zimbabwe’s Painted Dog Conservation, which also runs a rehab facility for sick and injured pups, estimates there are between 3,000 and 5,000 wild dogs left on the continent.
3. Once found in 39 countries
African wild dogs once roamed freely through 39 African countries. Today they are found only in Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, where the Painted Dog Conservation is located.
4. Just a century ago there were 500,000
At the beginning of the 20th century there were around 500,000 African wild dogs in Africa. Today there are less than 5,000.
5. Big ears and spots
Famous for their large, round ears and multicolored coats, African wild dogs have lots of similar characteristics to their domestic dog cousins, including that special brand of canine cuteness.
6. Persecuted almost to extinction
The African wild dog population was decimated during the last 100 years thanks to “unfounded myths leading to human persecution, and tragic injuries when their paths cross our roads,” the Painted Dog Conservation reports.
7. Education is key to their survival
Today, the Painted Dog Conservation is working hard to educate locals and visitors about helping integrate these wild dogs back into Africa. Drive slowly when you see a painted dog sign, as many dogs are killed by speeding automobiles.
8. Pack life
Like their domestic cousins, African wild dogs are social animals and have a rich and cooperative pack life. Packs used to grow as large as 100 dogs, but are now much smaller.
9. Where to see them in the wild
The greatest number of packs are found in Zimbabwe, where you’ll have the best chance of seeing them on safari. A small number of African wild dogs also live in South Africa, Botswana, and Tanzania.
10. Wild dog rehab
African wild dog lovers will want to visit the Painted Dog Conservation in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. It runs a rehab facility for sick and injured dogs that aims at healing pups before returning them to their packs in the wild.
11. Totally unique
The scientific name for the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) means “painted wolf.” Indeed, the painted dogs do look as if they have all been painted. No two wild dogs have the same markings, making it easy to identify them as individuals.
12. Caring parents
The African wild dog puppies old enough to eat solid food are known to be given priority at the kill, to encourage them to grow strong. This is done even at the expense of the dominant pair of adult dogs.
13. Social responsibility
The wild dog pack shares responsiblity for protecting the important cubs, and both males and females take turns to babysit their young. In addition, unlike other African mammals, they lack aggression towards others in their pack, and will share the kill regardless of who was involved or not.
14. Close knit team
Researchers have observed that the wild dog pack has a ceremony to perform before each hunt. Pack members run about, vocalising and pepping each other up until they are all excited and enthused, ready for the hunt. The dogs also exhibit a sense of teamship and intelligence on the hunt. Some pack members will run close to the prey, and then back off, allowing others to take up the lead as the forerunners tire.
15. On the move
African wild dogs have an amazingly huge range, and appear to be constantly on the go. In the Serengeti, the estimated size of each pack’s territory is an incredible 1500km2. To put that into perspective, an area the size of Greater London (home to 7.5 million people) could only support one or two African wild dog packs.
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