African Wild Dogs

Typically, they will weigh between forty and eighty lbs. and can be anywhere from three and a half to five ft. long (including the length of the tail). African Wild Dogs are usually between two and two and a half ft. tall at the shoulder. The males also tend to be slightly larger than the females. Compared to wolves or coyotes, they are very lean and tall. Unlike other canines, the African Wild Dog has only four toes on its front feet, as opposed to the typical five. This is because their dew-claw is missing.

Other distinctive qualities are their large, round ears. (“Lycaon pictus — Details African Wild Dog”). It is said that these ears are essential for hunting, during which a pack may use long distance vocal calls (G. Rhodes, and R. Rhodes). These ears also help with heat loss and regulation (“Lycaon pictus — Details African Wild Dog”). However, an African Wild Dogs most distinctive quality is its coat; this species has a coat blotched in yellow, gray, black, white, and brown (“Lycaon pictus — Details African Wild Dog”).

Most of the variation in color is on the body and legs (Creel, and Creel). The coloration on the dogs faces are all very similar, with a black muzzle shading to brown on the cheeks and forehead, a black line extending up the forehead, and blackish-brown on the backs of the ears. There is never white on the head. The back part of the head and the top of the neck are consistently brown or yellow. However, colors on the body and legs are unpredictable. (Creel, and Creel). The fur on its bushy tail is almost always white (“Lycaon pictus — Details African Wild Dog”).

An African Wild Dog’s fur is slightly longer around the head and body, and shorter on the legs (“African wild dog (Lycaon pictus)”). However, wild dogs tend to have sparse hair, though there is variation among individuals (Creel, and Creel). This variation is related to age—young pups and dogs have more hair than adult dogs, and old dogs can become almost hairless. Hair is particularly lost on the head, which begins to look grey as the skin shows through. (Creel, and Creel). Underneath its fur, African Wild Dogs have blackish/grey skin (“Lycaon pictus — Details African Wild Dog”).

Every wild dog has a different patterned coat with all the individuality of a snowflake or a fingerprint. It is the coat that can allow scientists to tell each animal apart. There has also been evidence to suggest that the dogs are able to use their distinctive coats to tell each other apart; this is why dogs can easily identify other wild dogs that are not in their pack, or spate packs that might pose a threat. (“Lycaon pictus — Details African Wild Dog”). African Wild Dogs live in packs, and have a very unusual social system (“Lycaon pictus — Details African Wild Dog”).

In their packs, only the dominant male and female are allowed to reproduce, which leads to alliances among dogs of the same sex. Packs can range anywhere from two to twenty seven individuals, and new packs form when a subgroup (usually females, and sisters) separate from their pack and join with another subgroup that is composed of males. The sisters typically separate once they reach sexual maturity. African Wild Dogs usually hunt in the cool of dusk and dawn in order to avoid other predators like lions, and the pups are usually allowed to eat first after prey has been killed. (“Lycaon pictus — Details African Wild Dog”).

As stated previously, only the dominant male and female are allowed to reproduce (“Lycaon pictus — Details African Wild Dog”). However, all African Wild Dogs will reach sexual maturity in about two years, though mating does not usually occur until much later. The dominant female can give birth during any time of the year, though birthing tends to be more common between March and June. Gestation averages around ten weeks, and the litter averages around ten pups, though twenty pups have been recorded in one litter. The African Wild Dog has one of the largest litters in the canine world.

Pups are born in a den (usually an abandoned aardvark hole) and will stay there with their mother for three-four weeks. While the mother and pups are refined to the den, other pack members will regurgitate food for them. Once the pups mature enough to leave the den, they become the responsibility of the whole pack, often nursing off of females that are not their mother. However, pups are weaned anywhere from one-three months after birth. It generally takes twelve-fourteen months before another litter is born. (“Lycaon pictus — Details African Wild Dog”).

The African Wild Dog (which has a life expectancy of about ten years in the wild) typically lives in savannas (“Lycaon pictus — Details African Wild Dog”). Savannas are found on either side of the equator on the edges of tropical rainforests most typically in Africa, though also occurring in select parts of South America and Australia (“Savanna”). In savannas, it is warm all year round, and there is not enough rainfall to support a forest. During its dry season, a savanna will only receive an average of four inches of rain fall. However, during the wet season, a savanna might get up to twenty five inches.

In savannas, there is a lot of grassland, with scattered shrubs and isolated trees. Animal life includes many herbivores that consume grass, and also predators that control the herbivore populations. (“Savanna”). When African Wild Dogs are not breeding, they become nomadic and wander over large distances in search of prey; home ranges can be as large as 5,000 square kilometers, but are often much smaller (“Lycaon pictus — Details African Wild Dog”). These dogs are on the third trophic level because they eat herbivores, usually impala, antelope, and sometimes prey as large as wildebeests.

There have been cases where a hungry wild dog will consume seventeen to nineteen lbs. of meat, or about 1/3 of its own weight. However, African Wild Dogs will never scavenge. Therefore, the African Wild Dogs fill a carnivorous predator niche, helping to regulate and control ungulate (animals with hooves) populations. (“Lycaon pictus — Details African Wild Dog”). African Wild Dogs are considered endangered because they have disappeared from much of their range (McNutt et al. ). These dogs are virtually nonexistent in West Africa, and greatly reduced in central and north-east Africa.

The largest populations remain in southern Africa, and studies suggest that between 3,000–5,500 wild African Wild Dogs remain in Africa today. These dogs are in danger for several reasons, one of which being habitat loss and fragmentation. When their habitat is broken up, it increases contact with humans which can lead to issues such as poaching (when wild dogs prey on livestock) and road kill. These dogs need a lot of space to roam in search of prey (because of other predators that fill the same niche), so even reserves aren’t always effective because humans live right on the border.

While smaller fenced reserves have been able to effectively contain these animals, fencing can be expensive and allow an outbreak of disease to wipe out the entire population. This is because wild dogs live at low population densities due to predation by lions and competition with hyenas. Such low population density makes the dogs susceptible to disease, and makes the epidemic that much more deadly. (McNutt et al. ). African Wild Dogs were declared vulnerable in 1986, and became endangered in 1990 and their population is decreasing (McNutt et al. . Wild dogs are legally protected across much of their range. However, this protection is rarely enforced and wild dogs are extinct in several countries despite severe legal protection. Conservation priorities include maintenance and expansion of habitat available to wild dogs, working with local people to reduce deliberate killing of wild dogs, establishing effective techniques for protecting small wild dog populations from infections, and continuation of long-term monitoring of populations in order to identify emerging threats.

Re-establishment of extinct populations through reintroduction currently has a low priority in most areas, although natural recolonizations should be encouraged. (McNutt et al. ). Due to their decreasing populations, need for expansive space, and susceptibility to disease, it appears as if the future for this amazing species is grim. Not enough is being done to preserve this animal because laws are not being enforced, and humans are crowding and destroying their habitat.

If African Wild Dogs are to survive, humans need to be extremely proactive in their protection of this species. African Wild Dogs should be reintroduced into habitat where they used to survive, and laws for the protection of these dogs need to be more regulated and enforced. These animals will also need a lot more habitat than they have now, and it will probably be very difficult to find the space for reserves necessary for the survival of this species. If humans truly decide to save the African Wild Dog from extinction, it can certainly be done, but it won’t be easy.

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