African wild dogs: Smart, social and excellent hunters

Highly intelligent, a successful predator and very social – the African wild dog surely is one of the index species in the African savannah. In our blog post you can learn more about the fascinating mammal


Highly intelligent, a successful hunter and very social – the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) is surely one of the most characteristic species in the African savannah or dry areas. Their main area of distribution is in Kenia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and the Kruger National Park in South Africa. With a body height between 60 and 75 cm and an average weight of 20 to 25 kg the African wild dog is a rather small representative of the canid’s family. In other languages the species is sometimes called “hyaena dog” because the shape and colour (a black colouring with red, brown or yellow spots) is similar to the hyaena which is also common in Africa. Gazelles, impalas and warthogs, but also rodents and birds are hunted as prey by the African wild dog. Most of the time the packs hunt down elderly or sick animals which is why the African wild dog is an important member of the ecosystem.

The African wild dog is living in packs and is characterized by its social behaviour and the strong hierarchy among the individuals. Every pack is led by a dominant alpha couple which is responsible for reproduction. The other members of the pack which are usually infertile due to a change of their hormones take care of the offspring. Despite the clear hierarchy, there are only few rivalries within the pack. The behaviour of the wild dogs rather shows obedience, altruism and a will to share, so that conflicts occur only seldom. By the way: If the hierarchy of the pack changes and a new alpha couple has the lead, they gain back their ability to reproduce.


The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) has listed the African wild dog as highly endangered. Especially due to the loss of habitat and disturbance by humans (for example through traps and poaching) their numbers have rapidly decreased in the past years. In 1997, around 5000 wild dogs were living in Africa, since then the population is estimated to have decreased even more.

As humans push further and further into the habitat of wild dogs and therewith restrict it, protective areas and monitoring of the packs is essential to ensure the consistency of the species. Natucate supports monitoring projects which are – in comparison to ineffective breeding projects – of much greater importance for the sustainable conservation of the African wild dog. As a participant in our volunteer project in South African Zululand you can actively contribute to protecting endangered wild dogs. Furthermore, lots of our trips, such as a safari in Zambia or Botswana, give you the chance to observe these fascinating animals in the wild.


The Behaviour Guide to African Mammals, Richard Despard Estes, 2012, University of California Press, London

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