Sightings of Africa’s wild dogs are always exhilarating – not only because they are rarely seen (and critically endangered) but because they are incredibly fast movers. It’s impossible to keep them in view for long – unlike the big cats which tend to lie around quite a bit. However their long legged coursing gait, huge round ears, autumnal mottled coats and bushy white-tipped tail are easily identifiable characteristics, despite brief glimpses of them.
In Namibia wild dogs still occur in Bushmanland and the Zambezi Region (Caprivi) in the north east of the country, although some inland private game reserves have thriving packs of dogs. Preferring sparse woodland or preferably open plains as they hunt on the run, tirelessly loping after their prey, tearing off chunks with their powerful bite until the prey collapses through blood and organ loss. These dogs are supreme hunters, usually hunting by sight although the stragglers use their noses to catch up with the group as well as location by sound with their distinctive hoo hoo call and excited bird-like chirping around prey.
Prey consists of small to medium antelope although they are able to bring down prey as large as sable and kudu and have even been known to hunt buffalo. They will often nab hare and small buck while on the hunt – voraciously consuming the prey in minutes. An adult gazelle will be consumed entirely in a mere 15 minutes. Prey is singled out, usually by the pack leader and relentlessly pursued by the pack for up to two kilometres sometimes at a sustained speed of up to sixty km/hour.
Unlike lion, they are very considerate of their young, usually allowing them to eat their fill first before the hunters themselves eat. They may even wait a considerable time for the juveniles to catch up to the kill. Adults need 1,2 – 5,9 kg of meat per day to keep up their energy needs, and lose as much as 25% of their prey to hyena, lion and leopard. This means they might have to spend up to 12 hours a day hunting to fulfil their energy needs.
They have a massive requirement for space except when the alpha female is denning, then the pack returns to the den to cooperatively feed the breeding bitch and her pups. The whole pack helps care for the pack but only the dominant pair breeds. These are true altruists as adults will regurgitate to the point of virtual starvation to look after the pups.
The decline of Africa’s Painted Dog is partly due to their extreme sensitivity to habitat fragmentation, and conflict with livestock and game farmers, snares and roadside accidents add their toll. They are also highly susceptible to infectious diseases often transferred from black-backed jackal and domestics dogs. Sadly, their delightful ritual greeting ceremony upon reuniting - consisting of licking the mouths of pack members, means that diseases spread quickly through a pack. This is mainly distemper and rabies spread from black-backed jackal and domestic dogs.
Our Big Rivers Safari in June 2017 could well encounter these most rare and delightful of predators. We will in fact be staying quite close to the Kwando Carnivore Project in the Zambezi Region which monitors some 50 – 100 dogs moving between Angola, Namibia and Botswana. There Facebook comments on several significant carnivore events in the region, including reporting on illegal poaching.
Reference: Mammals of the Southern African Sub Region, Skinner and Chimimba