Wild Dogs in Madikwe
Good news for visitors to Madikwe is that highly endangered African wild dog packs are flourishing in the reserve.
Madikwe is justifiably proud of its founding group of six wild dogs, introduced to Madikwe in 1994. The dogs’ journey during the past 16 years has been a challenging one, with many dying due to territorial clashes, lion attacks and rabies outbreaks.
Despite the odds, Madikwe has stabilised resident clans and even introduced new wild dogs from other reserves to strengthen the dogs’ gene pool. Today, there are three hunting packs in Madikwe.
The dogs are extremely active and as such need to make on average a kill a day to keep their energy levels up. A first impression of these colourful animals is their incessant movement. In contrast to lions, which tend to spend most of their lives sleeping, these dogs are full of energy and constantly play and chase one another as they move through the bush.
Since the Madikwe wild dogs are accustomed to safari vehicles, they seldom flee, offering wonderful photographic opportunities.
Although Africa’s wild dog population is still on the decline, conservation efforts, such as those of Madikwe Game Reserve, aim to preserve and protect these unique and beautiful animals so that they may continue to enchant future generations.
The diminishing landscape of the painted dog
A century ago, African wild dog (Lyacon pictus) packs of more than 100 members roamed free on the Serengeti Plains. Today, the picture is very different, with less than 5 000 dogs living behind fences in African reserves.
Also known as the Cape hunting dog, the African wild dog is endangered. Seldom seen in West Africa, populations in central African and northeast African have been wiped out. The largest concentrations are found in Southern Africa and the southern regions of East Africa.
There are a number of reasons for the drastic decline in numbers of the African wild dog, most associated with humans. Land clearance has destroyed or fragmented the dogs’ habitat; encroaching urbanisation has reduced their hunting grounds; exposure to infectious diseases such as canine distemper and rabies carried by domestic dogs has resulted in many deaths, and they’ve been shot and poisoned. It’s no surprise that wild dog populations continue to decline, earning these canids their endangered status.
The wild dog is a carnivore belonging to the canid family, along with foxes, wolves and jackals. Canids are generally described as slender, long-legged animals with long muzzles, erect, pointy ears and bushy tails.
What sets the wild dog apart from its canid compatriots is its four-toed front feet (other canids have five). Its rear feet have five toes, as do the other members’ of the canid family.
The African wild dog is more easily identified by another of its names – the painted hunting dog – which aptly describes its splotched coat of brown, white, black and yellow.
It has a short, wiry coat, with longer hair on the neck than on the body and limbs. Its blotched exterior has also earned the animal its Latin name Lyacon pictus, or “painted wolf-like animal”. Since no two dogs bear exactly the same markings, this makes it relatively easy to identify individuals.
The African hunting dog is long-limbed with a wide, flat head, short muzzle, and large ears (believed to aid heat loss and in tracking pack members by picking up long-distance vocal signals). They communicate via a range of vocalisations, including a short bark of alarm, a rallying howl and a bell-like contact call.
Highly social animals, wild dogs typically live in packs of 5 to 15 members headed by an alpha male or female. Bonds between clan members are strong and a strict social hierarchy is determined by status.
When hunting, which they do cooperatively in packs, their prey of choice are grazers such as springbok, kudu, wildebeest and zebra. However, unlike other predators that stalk and ambush their prey, the wild dog uses stamina rather than stealth to hunt.
The animals boldly approach a herd, causing a stampede before singling out an injured or old animal as a suitable target.
Once they have chosen their quarry, the dogs chase the animal until it drops from exhaustion. They have been known to pursue prey over distances in excess of 5km for more than an hour, using the white tips of their bushy tails as flags to keep the pack in contact.
Wild dogs share their spoils and collaborate in caring for pups and injured clan members.
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