African Wild Dog

The scientific name of these canids translates as ‘painted wolf’ and refers to their highly individual patterning, which allows individuals to be identified from some distance away.

Recognized by its dark-brown, black or yellowish coat, well mottled with light patches, the African wild dogs has long legs and a short, extremely powerful muzzle. African wild dogs live in packs of 6 to 30 or more, sometimes up to 90 individuals with a high degree of social cooperation and interaction between individuals in the pack. They communicate by means of gestures and body postures and a few calls. Nomadic animals, African wild dogs roam over a wide area looking for their prey and only remain in one place for more than a few days when the young are too small to travel.

During much of the day, the dogs rest and groom themselves in the shade. Most hunting is done in the early morning and evening or on bright, moonlit nights. After a mass greeting ceremony between pack members, the dogs move off to search for prey, such as gazelle, impala and zebra. Once the prey has been located by sight, the dogs follow it slowly for a while before starting the final chase. The African wild dogs may concentrate on one victim or follow several members of a herd before all switching to one particular animal. When close enough, the dogs start to bite the prey wherever they can, often seizing its legs and tail and causing it to fall. They disembowel it and immediately start tearing it to pieces and feeding. The pack shares the kill without aggression, allowing young animals to feed first and disgorging meat to latecomers. Some pack members return to the den and disgorge meat for the adults guarding the young. By expert cooperation, by taking turns in the chase and by combined attack, packs of African wild dogs can successfully bring down prey much bigger than themselves, even large wildebeest.

The female gives birth to 2 to 16 young (usually 7) after a gestation period of 69 to 72 days. The litter is born in a burrow, such as an abandoned aardvark or warthog hole, and more than one female may share the den. The young are blind at birth, but their eyes open at about 2 weeks, and they soon begin to venture out of the den. They are suckled for about 3 months and then fed on regurgitated food by pack members from the age of 2 weeks. The whole pack takes an interest in the young and will feed any motherless pups. At 6 months the young begin to learn to hunt and accompany the pack.

Distribution: Confined to Africa, especially in deciduous forests, it ranges across central and eastern parts of the continent, down to northern South Africa and northern Namibia.

Habitat: Desert plains, open and wooded savannah, bushed country, semidesert, mountains up to 10,000 ft (3,000 m).

Weight: 17 - 36 kg (37 - 79 lb); males slightly larger.

Length: 52 - 58 cm (21 - 23 in); up to 75 cm (30 in) tall.

Maturity: 12 - 18 months.

Gestation Period: 65 - 70 days; weaning occurs at 10 weeks.

Breeding: Average of 7-10 pups born in the dry winter months from March to July in the south.

Food: Hunts medium-sized ungulates like impalas, and also bigger animals such as zebras and ostriches.

Lifespan: Up to 11 years in the wild.

Status: Endangered.


Large and rounded at their tips, the ears are sensitive to a wide array of sounds.


Unlike other canids, African wild dogs only have four toes on each of their front feet.


Coat colour comprises black, red, yellow, brown and white areas. No two individuals having the same markings.


The mottled colouring of these wild dogs blends in well in grassland areas.


When attacking prey, one member of the pack always holds on to the unfortunate animal’s tail, allowing its companions to strike in greater safety.