The African Painted Dog - An Example of a Monotypic Species

Where Do African Wild Dogs Live?

African hunting dog facts
The African painted dog is the only living species of the genus Lycaon although there are five recognised subspecies. It is therefore a monotypic species.

There are a great number of these species which are now the only living representative of their genera. The pronghorn, black rhino, numbat and edible dormouse are others.

African painted dog conservation is very important if the African hunting dog aka African painted dog is to survive.

The African Painted dog has the scientific name of Lycaon pictus (sometimes Canis pictus). 'Lycaon' derives from the Greek word for 'wolf' and the Latin for 'painted'. Its other common names include African wild dog, African hunting dog, Cape hunting dog, spotted dog, or ornate wolf.

Distribution of African Painted DogCredit: Wikimedia - Author TBjornstad

Where do African Wild Dogs Live?
The breed is found only in Africa. Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia have the most viable populations.

It frequents savannahs and lightly wooded areas. Some packs are found in tropical rainforest areas. Packs have very large territories with low population densities.

The painted dog is tall and lean, weighing between 18 and 36 kilograms and measuring about 75 centimetres at the shoulder. It has a total length of 105 to 186cm of which 30 to 45cm is tail. Those animals found in eastern or western Africa are typically smaller than those in southern Africa. Males are slightly larger than females.

The ears are very large and rounded and the animal has highly developed senses of sight, small and hearing.

African painted dogCredit: Wikimedia

The coat is irregularly mottled with red, brown, white, black and yellow fur. Each individual has unique markings but the muzzles are black and the tail white.

The premolars are relatively large and it is able to consume large quantities of bone, sharing this trait with the hyena. After the Tasmanian devil, a marsupial carnivore, the African painted dog has the highest bite force quotient of any mammal of the Carnivora order. The bite force quotient (BFQ) measures the strength of the bite relative to the mass of the animal.

They are the only dog with four toes on the front feet. The front feet are devoid of dewclaws. The African painted dog can travel up to 6 kilometres maintaining a speed of up to 60 kph. For short bursts it can reach 70 kph. The lifespan is believed to be about 9 years.

Packs of 100 animals used to be common but nowadays packs vary between 10 and 20 dogs. Less than six and the group is not viable.

Packs separate into male and female hierarchies. Dominance is generally established by submission rather than fighting. The loss, even if temporary, of a group member through injury could leave the group in danger of being unable to provide food for all the members.

The dogs rarely drink, gaining most of their water from their prey. They are good swimmers and will scavenge if the opportunity arises. They are most active early morning and late evening. Social interaction is common either by touch, actions or vocalisations.

African painted dogs hunt in organised packs, pursuing its prey in a long, open chase. Ninety percent of these hunts end in a kill whereas the success rate of lions is only 30%. Large prey are often killed by disembowelling. Pack movements are coordinated by bird-like chirpings and squeakings. After a successful hunt, meat is regurgitated back at the den for those who stayed behind. Sick, weak or injured animals remain at the den and protect any pups which may have born.

The main prey varies but medium to large sized ungulates are most favoured. Impala, gazelle, reedbuck, kudu and springbok are common prey and wildebeest calves may form a large part of the diet, which varies from region to region depending on what is available and plentiful.

A particularly successful pack will tackle zebras and warthogs. The group will stampede the herd with one dog attempting to grab the tail of the victim. Another goes for the muzzle while the rest attempt to disembowel the victim. It will occasionally hunt large birds such as ostriches. It sometimes loses its kill to other larger predators such as lions. Although hyenas are larger and stronger than painted dogs, a large group will intimidate a small group of hyenas because of their superior tactical coordination.

The African painted dog reproduces throughout the year with peaks during the second half of the rainy season (March to June). The copulatory tie common in most canids is very brief or absent in this animal, possibly because of the danger of predators. Around ten pups is the most common litter size but can range from 2 to 19. Gestation appears to last about 70 days with one litter a year unless all the pups die in which case another litter may be born within six months.

Dens abandoned by other animals are often used for by painted dogs. At ten weeks, the young are weaned and they begin to run with the pack at three months. They will be 12 to 14 months before they are proficient hunters. Sexual maturity is reached between 12 and 18 months.

Contrary to most social mammals, males stay with their family pack and females leave at 14 to 30 months to join other packs. Typically males outnumber females by two to one and only the dominant female is likely to raise a litter. Females compete for males and both help raise the pups. Another uncommon practice is that of leaving some adults behind to protect the pups while the others go off to hunt.

Threats include predators such as lions and hyenas, introduced diseases such as distemper, parvovirus and rabies, habitat loss and road deaths. The small size of most groups makes them vulnerable to local extinction if a disease gets hold in a group.

The Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) effort is based in Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe and works with local communities in an attempt to conserve the African painted dog and its habitat.

Taronga Western Plains Zoo has a family of African painted dogs as does San Diego, Philadelphia, Houston, Hamilton Zoo, New Zealand, and others.

Very recently, Perth Zoo, Western Australia, welcomed another nine African Painted pups into its population. The four male and five female pups were born to seven-year-old Mara who is part of an Australasian breeding program for endangered species. This is the third and largest litter to be born at the zoo since 2005. With an estimated less than 3000 African Painted Dogs left in the wild, this latest litter is a great bonus for the species.

This species is obviously on the endangered list but at least they are reproducing well in captivity.