After recently being captivated by the new BBC documentary series Dynasties, in which I re-watched each episode about 5 times, in particular the African wild dog episode (where they are referred to as Painted Wolves) I decided that I too would change my way of thinking and rather call them Painted wolves.
You must be wondering what is a painted wolf and why I am not referring to them as wild dogs?
Most of the time when I am driving guests and I tell them about African wild dogs they seem to directly correlate what I’m saying to domestic dogs, but when I refer to them as Painted wolves the guests are immediately interested, and curious as to what these animals look like. Maybe it is because wolves have a reputation of being mystical, because of their hair-raising howl and the role they play in cultural beliefs. They represent different symbols for ancient cultures and indigenous people who believed that humans and animals share a spiritual connection, and that animals come to us to signify certain meanings and moments in our lives.
There is so much more than just the characteristics of a dog to these majestic creatures. True Wolves symbolise intuition, loyalty and freedom in the way they work in a pack which is not much different to a pack of painted wolves.
Dogs seem to be something in the ordinary and an animal seen most days in our backyards; there is no wilderness to this. The painted wolves’ scientific name is Lycaon pictus; the word ‘Lycaon’ originates from Greek mythology. King Lycaon tried to fool Zeus by feeding him the flesh of his own son but Zeus had his revenge on the King and turned him into a wolf-like creature. Therefore ‘Lycaon’ means wolf-like and ‘pictus’ means painted.
Painted wolves are more closely related to wolves than domestic dogs but in actual fact are closely related to neither, and are in their own genus. Painted wolves have similar behavioural traits to wolves; they hunt in packs, wolves howl and painted wolves ‘hoo‘ (which is a hunting call that they use to locate the rest of their pack if they lose them during a hunt or during a ritual when they choose the next alpha pair) so if you are still following me, you’ll start to understand where I am going with this.
Lycaon pictus is extremely endangered; less than a century ago there were just below half a million across Africa while today, there are only around 6000 left.
European settlers that moved into Africa and wanted to establish farmlands saw the painted wolves as vermin. The creatures would hunt their livestock with the consequence of being hunted themselves by the people. Coming into contact with modern humans is also dangerous as they can get caught in snares for catching bushmeat, run over by cars and being in contact with domestic dogs that may have rabies.
Calling them Painted Wolves could have a positive effect on the conservation of these animals as in my mind it sounds more fascinating than the more feral name of ‘Wild dogs’ in the same sense that changing killer whales to Orcas gives them less of a misleading name. So being called a ‘dog’ can seem too plain for their delicately painted coat and complex and fascinating interaction in their pack.
Change can be seen as good, we are living through the process of evolution so change is inevitable and necessary. I think it is time for Lycaon pictus to be painted in a different light.