Many people arrive in Africa for their first safari and do not know of the African wild dog. Each time it surprises me when I hear, “I have never heard of them”. We get this response so frequently that it made me want to bring some attention to the topic. People should, if they are interested in African animals, know about African wild dogs. Raised awareness of what the animal is and what the challenges to its species are, the better its chances of survival.
The first thing I tell guests is that the African wild dog is the rarest large carnivore in southern Africa. I tell them that they are highly endangered with only between 3000 and 5000 wild dogs left in the wild.
I also say that they are the most successful hunters of any predators in the area; they hunt nearly every day and kill about four of every five attempts at a hunt. Cheetahs, lions and leopards usually kill at a rate of 3 or 4 of every ten attempts, if that.
Because they have an extremely fast metabolism, wild dogs need between 2-4 kgs of meat a day (which is more like a large predator); therefore the pack will kill on average one medium sized antelope each day!
I tell guests that they are highly social and can live in a pack of up to 50 animals. An alpha male and female pair breed and all the other pack members share the responsibilities of looking after the young, sentry duty, keeping the den clean, providing food and running off predators. They have a family unit that is essential to the survival of each individual.
I relay that a pack of wild dogs needs space and in the Greater Kruger National Park they need between 260 and 930 square kilometres for a home range. So if you see a pack of wild dogs of any size, you are seeing a sizeable percentage of the 400 in the entire Kruger Park.
Their biggest threats are habitat loss (as mentioned previously they need a large area to survive in), chance encounters with diseased domestic dogs that might sneak into a reserve, or even extermination by farmers in fear for their livestock.
Getting caught in traps set by poachers for other animals has also impacted their numbers over the years. These reasons are hard to hear and difficult to process, but this is the reality and I feel it is important that people are aware of the difficulties this species faces.
African wild dogs are intelligent, social, strategic and beautiful to observe. If you do happen to see some, know how lucky you are!
Despite being inconsistent, sightings at Londolozi are not infrequent. We will regularly have a pack on the reserve for a few days before they disappear again, roaming their vast home range before once more appearing, just as suddenly as they left.