When Dutch zoologist Coenrad Temminck first laid eyes on the African Wild Dog, also known as the African Hunting Dog or African Painted Dog, in 1820, he found it so improbable he described it as an accident between a wolf and a leopard with a mane like an Ethiopian lion. Then he relented and decided it was a species of hyena. Within a decade, anatomist and naturalist Joshua Brooks identified it as a species of Canid, and called it Lycaon Pictus, meaning painted wolf.
Kruger Park’s Most Elusive Animal
Most visitors to Kruger Park in South Africa never see a wild dog. I was one of the lucky few who have followed a pack of several dozen along a dusty track in a 4WD hire car for several kilometres, until the alpha male turned right down a game trail and the others followed. I have yet to see such a social group of mammals again, and I doubt I will. They were constantly calling to each other. This enabled me to observe a strict hierarchy of females and males in perfect harmony, meaning dog wise.
Doing What Wild Dogs Do
African Wild Dogs stand 60 to 75 cm high, and weigh in at 20 to 25 kilos. Yet they can hunt down a Zebra that stands 130 cm high at the shoulder, and can tip the scale at 350 kilos. Lycaon Pictus is a perfect hunting animal in the thorn scrub of Kruger. It hunts in short bursts at speeds up to 66 kph, after which another one takes over, and another one, and another one until the quarry is exhausted and falls to the ground. This is Africa, this is nature, and the kill is quick.
Hunting Down the Fence Line
Despite its reputation for ferocity, the African Wild Dog has exceptionally strong social bonds within the pack. The alpha male and alpha female monopolise breeding. The male controls the male hierarchy and the female the female one. They are often the oldest and the wisest. Those that challenge the system become lonely outcasts and food for lions.
We have less than 400 Painted Wolves left in my country, South Africa, and most of them are in Kruger. They are an endangered species, and when they are gone, they are gone forever.