Monday, August 18, 2014

Africa's Wild Dogs

Africa's Wild Dogs aren't really dogs.  They split off from wolves millions of years ago. Like coyotes, domestic dogs, jackals and grey wolves, they have 78 chromosomes so they are indeed canids, but they are so distinctly different from their lupus relatives, taxonomists place them all alone in their own genus- lycoan.
An unusual pooch. The ears are big to disperse heat.

A few years ago I went to South Africa to hang out with biologists studying the painted dogs, a mid sized carnivore (60-70 pounds) whose dwindling population has made them Africa's most endangered mammal. When I was there in 2007, there were only about 5000 dogs left.

Wild Dog biologists and friends

We spent the day in this vehicle
using binoculars to follow the dogs.
It was just like doing field research in Yellowstone Park except biologists in Africa carry shotguns. Elephants were the biggest threat to vehicles.

We were lucky to be there during breeding season. And even luckier to observe denning behaviors.
Our topic of study. She's looking at
pups in a den dug in the ground. 

Where we stayed - Little Muck Lodge,
Limpopo Province, South Africa
A 2014 report from South Luangwa National Park in Zambia reveals good news. The Wild Dog population has increased to 7000 and remains steady. In some parts of Africa the dogs are doing better than expected, even reestablishing territories in countries where they'd gone extinct.  The New York Times has a good overview of the report.

If wildlife biologists are successful in establishing a vast wildlife reserve that will span parts of Zambia, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia, the painted dogs will get an opportunity to thrive.  The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area  (KAZA) will be the size of Sweden.

If you're into wolves, you'll want to know
more about these unusual animals.  


  1. Another wonderful and so very interesting post, I enjoyed reading the NY Times report - I hope they continue to survive and do well. Their interesting expressive faces and coat colours are really something to behold, it must have been a moving experience to see them in the wild.......

  2. ...and then you write about critters close to my heart. SA is where I live, and I used to work on game farms. Back in the '90s we had no idea how few were left, and it wasn't easy to count AWDs even in Kruger Park (which was then fenced). Then Doc Maddock's team (iirc) started using photographs to ID the dogs, and somehow those photos were what changed everything. There were less than 100 photos, because there were less than 100 Wild Dogs left in Kruger. 100 is a small enough number to make even little kids gasp; it also spurred the SA government into enacting absolute protection legislation. But it was almost too little too late.