The African wild dog is one of the most successful hunters on the African plains, and are highly social and intelligent animals. These characteristics have made the painted wolf be arguably the most successful hunter on Africa’s dangerous plains. Even though they might not look like much, these animals have a better hunting success rate than lions and leopards! Here is everything you need to know about this animal.
Also known as the Cape Hunting dog or the painted wolf, the African wild dog is a canid that is indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa. This canine is the largest ‘dog’ in Africa. However, it does not belong to the genus Canis where dogs, coyotes, and wolves belong; rather, it belongs to the Lycaon genus, which it happens to be the only living member of.
The biggest difference between the Lycaon and Canis genera is that the former are hypercarnivores, meaning that more than 70% of their diet consists of meat. Additionally, they do not have dewclaws.
With only about 6,600 individuals left in the wild, the painted wolf is an endangered species.
Skip to: Characteristics, Range & habitat, Diet, Behaviour, Fun facts, Video
Latin name: Lycaon pictus
Group name: Pack
Size: 61-78 cm shoulder height. 76-123 cm body length
Weight: 17 kg –36 kg
African wild dog characteristics
The African wild dog spots a uniquely patterned coat consisting of black, brown, white, and yellow markings, hence its name “the painted wolf.” Just like tigers, giraffes, and zebras, each dog’s markings are unique. As such, you can differentiate individuals based on the patterns on their coats.
Painted wolves have a lean, athletic build and long, slim legs.
These dogs also have black muzzles and large, round ears. These features give them exceptional senses of smell and hearing.
The average African wild dog measures 1.5 meters from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail and can be as tall as 75 centimeters at the shoulder. These dogs can be quite hefty, with some individuals weighing in at close to 40 kgs.
It has been observed that dogs from the southern part of the continent tend to be larger, on average, than their counterparts in East and West Africa. Male painted wolves are typically larger than females, regardless of the region.
Unlike other dogs, painted wolves do not have five digits on their paws and have only four. This is because, as mentioned, they do not have dewclaws. The Cape hunting dog has 42 teeth that are significantly larger than other canines’. This gives them the ability to crunch through bones with ease.
Range & habitat
African wild dogs prefer living out in the open. As such, you are likely to find them in the savannah and grasslands. Woody or forested areas are not ideal for them, as trees tend to come in the way during hunting, especially considering that they are pack hunters.
Dense vegetation is ideal for solitary hunters, such as leopards, that need to stalk their prey, getting as close as possible before launching an attack. On the other hand, African wild dogs hunt in numbers, cooperating to bring their prey down. Nonetheless, they will follow their prey into forested areas if they have to.
Painted wolves used to be found all over the continent. Today, however, they only inhabit parts of Eastern and Southern Africa.
As mentioned, painted wolves are hypercarnivores, which means that their diet consists primarily of meat. This is a distinct characteristic, as most other canids are borderline omnivores. African wild dogs’ prey consists of medium-sized ungulates, such as antelopes, gazelles, impalas, and springboks.
Thanks to their numbers, they are also able to bring down larger ungulates such as zebras and wildebeests. While not particularly large, the warthog is not attractive prey for these animals because of its sharp tusks. However, the African wild dogs will also not pass up an opportunity to take down an ostrich whenever they can.
Unlike big cats, painted wolves do not kill an animal first before enjoying the meal; they begin biting and tearing chunks of meat off the animal while it is still alive.
However, they are proud canids, as they do not consume carrion.
Behaviour & lifestyle
Painted wolves are extremely social animals. They live in packs consisting of up to 40 individuals. In the past, however, packs could have up to 100 individuals.
Something that is quite unique about African wild dogs is that it’s the females, instead of the males, that leave the pack once they reach sexual maturity. Males rarely leave, as they are rarely welcome in other packs.
As mentioned, these dogs are specialized pack hunters, using numbers to bring down large prey. They are opportunistic hunters and will go after prey as long as it is in sight.
Painted wolves are also extremely patient. Rather than relying on speed to catch their prey, they usually chase it down to exhaustion. They have remarkable cardiovascular systems that allow them to maintain speeds of up to 66 km/h for extended periods.
The African wild dogs’ are great hunters. In fact, the only other carnivores with similar or higher success rates are cheetahs and hyenas. Painted wolves routinely chase a cheetah away from its kill but seem to have a cordial relationship with hyenas.
Being big on family values, African wild dogs ensure that everyone in the pack eats. After bringing down an animal, they swallow large chunks of meat to regurgitate for pups and pack members that were left at the den. Unlike lions, painted wolves do not fight over food.
A dominant male and female usually lead a pack and become mates for life. All the other members help in hunting and raising the pups.
Fun African wild dog facts
- Females are the ones that leave the pack upon reaching sexual maturity
- An African wild dog pack’s territory can cover an area of up to 1,500 square kilometers
- Pups usually get priority at a kill, sometimes even over the dominant pair
Meet the African wild dog
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