African wild dogs: Their behaviour
The African wild dog is the most endangered large carnivore species in South Africa and the second most endangered in Africa after the Ethiopian wolf. In our blog you can learn interesting facts about its behaviour
African wild dogs live in packs that are usually led by a monogamous couple – the alpha male and the alpha female. The whole pack looks after the puppies of the alpha animals and usually they have older siblings who look after them and feed them.
Young animals develop a strong attachment to female relatives, which persists into adulthood. The fur-care causes the distribution of endorphins causing joy and relaxation. I spent some time watching a mother groom her offspring. In the beginning I expected the young animal to jump up and run away to play with the other young roughnecks that ran around us. However, he seemed to enjoy the massage to the fullest.
While the rest of the pack leaves to hunt, a full-grown wild dog remains with the puppies. After the hunters have eaten their prey, they return to feed the young. Upon arrival, the puppies beg the adult animals and encourage them to vomit the catch again with a mixture of squeaking and excitement. In this way, whole chunks can be consumed as a meal by the young animals. If the location of the killing was in close proximity, the adult animals also bring entire pieces of meat back to the puppies. The animals which were left behind as guards, often swap with the returnees and eat their fill.
The litter time of African wild dogs takes place at the end of the impalas’ rutting season in May. When the number of young impalas decreases in November, the wild dog puppies move with the pack and learn to hunt. The timing of these events seems to be more than just a coincidental advantage for the young beginners.
Why do African wild dogs change their territories?
During the time that the young ones are born and grow up in sheltered quarters (usually a den in the ground or a crevice), the animals change these quarters several times. The presence of other carnivores in the surrounding area which represent a possible threat for the herd and the puppies particularly justify this behaviour. Another reason is the avoidance of parasite infestation - in particular by fleas. Wild dog puppies remain in sheltered accommodation up to the age of four months. From this age they are large and strong enough to move freely with the pack.
African wild dogs and their vulnerability to traps
Most of the wildlife on our planet is found in rural areas. Poaching and illegal meat trade is widespread in Africa and the distribution of traps is a widely used method. Trapping is illegal in South Africa. In most cases antelopes are the target of the hunters, but instead threatened wild animals often fall into the traps and are fatally injured.
"African wild dogs stick together," conservation expert Chris Kelly explains. "If one member of the pack is trapped, the others will always return to him. However, this leads to further wild dogs falling into traps". If enough traps have been laid in an area, an entire pack may get killed in this way. Currently, not more than 450 African wild dogs live in South Africa. A number that will shrink rapidly if we stop monitoring and protecting this fascinating species.
Understanding the African wild dog is one thing, but the best conservation measure is to let nature take its course and only provide the animals with sufficient space and suitable habitats in which they can live. The behaviour of African wild dogs is unique in terms of their habits, pack structure and social dynamics, but as there are often misunderstandings, they often do not get the support they need.
"Countless species have been wiped out over the years by mankind, especially through persecution, disease outbreaks, and land division. Due to shrinking wildlife areas and a growing world population, the situation of wild dogs and other species is getting worse," Kelly says. We do not only need to understand the behaviour of the African wild dogs, but also must try to create new areas for them in order to give them a future.
Learn about and experience the African bush whilst contributing to long-term wildlife conservation.
Join a project which involves conservation of the wilderness and protection of endangered wildlife
Live and learn amidst Southern Africa's wild nature for 55 days – and become a Field Guide Level 1