What Is the African Wild Dog?

Fun Facts About This Rare Animal That Can Be Seen on Safari

a young pup
••• A young African wild dog pup. Getty Images/David Fettes

The African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) is a rare sight on safari in Africa, as there are only around 6000 left in the wild. It is Africa's rarest carnivore. Wild dogs have been hunted to near-extinction because their own hunting skills are not appreciated by those trying to raise livestock. Disease has also taken its toll on many populations. Besides man, wild dogs fear lion the most as their main predator.

Spotted hyena are also feared because they are masters at scavenging the wild dog's kill.

A Wild Dog's Life

The African Wild Dog is also known as the Cape Hunting Dog, Painted Wolf or Painted Dog. They are extremely social animals and live in packs. Both males and females have distinct hierarchies within their family groups, but despite this, the little ones always get to eat first. The average pack size is 5 to 8 adults along with their young offspring, which can total up to 25 (or so) members.

The pack hunts together, taking down smaller antelope, but also larger prey like wildebeest. They tend to outrun and outlast their prey, repeatedly nipping their legs until the prey runs out of steam and gives up. The chase can last up to 30 minutes. Smaller prey is simply taken down and eaten as soon as possible. The most common prey includes impala and springbok, but they are opportunistic hunters and will not turn down warthog, cane rats, zebra or wildebeest.

The pack will split up and single out a weaker member of a herd, cutting off escape routes and keeping it from re-joining the larger herd as they run off. Wild dogs eat quickly and will leave the skin, head, and skeleton behind of their larger prey, for scavengers to enjoy.

Because of their hunting style, wild dogs tend to live in dry, grasslands and savanna -- avoiding forested areas, so it's easier to see their prey and run it down.

Your best bet to see them in the wild, would be to plan a trip to Southern TanzaniaBotswana, South Africa or Zambia.

In the meantime, here are some fascinating facts about these wonderful animals.

10 African Wild Dog Facts

  1. The wild dog is Africa's rarest carnivore.
  2. The African wild dog has just 4 toes per foot.
  3. Every African wild dog has a unique coat pattern.
  4. Females have litters of up to 20 pups, but around 10 is average.
  5. African wild dogs hunt in packs of up to 20 individuals.
  6. African wild dogs can take down a wildebeest.
  7. African wild dogs sport a white plume on the tip of their tails.
  8. Young and sickly wild dogs are allowed to eat first after a successful kill (unlike most other predators).
  9. Packs are very cooperative, there are almost no overt displays of aggression.
  10. African wild dogs are highly nomadic (making it difficult to locate them on safari).