Are African wild dogs related to domestic dogs? Find Out Here

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Special thanks to Peter Apps from Botswana Predator Conservation for sharing this footage with us. Apps is involved in two camera trapping research projects that generate unique and ground-breaking videos of African large carnivores; one on leopard predation and the other one on African wild dog shared marking sites. Apps team is using camera traps to record the dogs’ responses to experimentally manipulated scents. Understanding African wild dogs’ scent marking is a key step in Botswana Predator Conservation’s development of a ‘BioBoundary’ that relies on an artificial scent. The aim is that the boundary will deter wild dogs from leaving the safety of protected wildlife areas.

African wild dogs are neither wolves nor dogs, even though they belong to the Canidae family. In fact, they have their own genus. Their biggest populations are in the open plains and sparse woodland of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. African wild dogs are highly social animals forming packs that can have more than 60 members. They live and hunt in groups that are usually dominated by a monogamous breeding pair. These dogs have a higher success rate killing prey than lions and leopards. Rather than the suffocation strategy used by big cats when they catch large prey, African wild dogs will bite their prey until it stops running. However, if it’s a smaller animal they will pull and tear it apart. Unfortunately, African wild dogs are listed as Endangered with fewer 6,000 individuals left in the wild. Habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, being caught in snares as bycatch by poachers hunting for meat, and infectious diseases like canine distemper and rabies, are among the factors that affect their population. To protect this species we need to create protected wildlife corridors to help connect their fragmented habitats and also reduce its conflict with humans. Watch the video to learn more about them!

Romi Castagnino is Mongabay’s bilingual writer. Find her on Twitter and Instagram: @romi_castagnino

Camera traps bring you closer to the secretive natural world and are an important conservation tool to study wildlife. This week we’re meeting the African wild dog.

The wild dog is neither wolf nor dog.

It is rather the only extant member of the genus Lycaon and goes by the name of Lycaon pictus. It’s easy to tell it apart from wolves and dogs by its teeth that are specialised for a hyper-carnivorous diet, a lack of dewclaws on the forelimbs, one of the most varied coat colours among mammals, ears like satellite antennae and an incomparable joie de vivre.

Native to sub-Saharan Africa and the largest indigenous canine in Africa, Lycaon pictus shares a common ancestor, over two million years ago, with the wolf, in much the same way that we share a common ancestor with chimpanzees, some eight million years ago. The wolf lineage split and evolved into today’s domesticated dogs while the Lycaon lineage evolved into the present-day painted dog.

Are African wild dogs related to domestic dogs?

In Greek mythology, Lycaon was a king of Arcadia who served roasted human flesh to Zeus, the ruler of all the gods on Mount Olympus, to test his all-knowingness and ability to discern that it was not the meat of an animal. Zeus proved his omniscience and, as punishment, transformed Lycaon into a wolf.

The wild dog was originally mistakenly classified as a hyena, and given the genus and name Hyaena picta, until it was recognised rather as one of the canids and renamed Lycaon tricolor, and later Lycaon pictus. Pictus meaning painted. At least we’ve settled on a scientific name for now.

Are African wild dogs related to domestic dogs?

Individually, they’re no great hunter, but when in a pack wild dogs are truly formidable.

They are the closest Africa gets to having piranhas, as they can ‘hoover up’ an impala in 20 minutes. Their hunting strategy seems to be based on being everywhere at once, a set of nipping, ripping and tearing teeth at every turn. The pack is able to keep up with the fleetest of grazers and to eventually take advantage of any weakness.

They often kill their prey by disembowelling, leaving them to die through shock and blood loss. Lycaon pictus has the highest bite force relative to the animal’s mass of any existing mammal carnivore, with their scissor-like molars used to devour the prey before any scavengers come along. Lions and hyenas are their sworn enemies.

Are African wild dogs related to domestic dogs?

These painted predators live in packs that are dominated by a monogamous breeding pair and that include their offspring and other non-breeding adults who are either offspring or siblings of one of the breeding pair or of the previous alpha pair. Basically one big happy family. The emphasis is on happy, because there is rarely any internal fighting and leaders are not chosen because of dominance, but rather through their ability to successfully raise their litters.

Are African wild dogs related to domestic dogs?

The average litter is around 10 pups and they are frequently housed in the safety of old, deserted aardvark burrows. Unusually, it is the young females who leave to find another home in a pack (one that lacks sexually mature females), while the males remain.

The vocalisations of this painted wolf-like African hunter go well beyond that of a domestic dog. They greet each other with high-pitched twittering and whining sounds, and when one dog has lost the group, it will make an owl-like “hoo” call to find the pack.

Are African wild dogs related to domestic dogs?

Wild Dogs VS Domestic Dogs – How do they compare?

Learn about African wild dogs in our expert guide, including why the species is endangered and ongoing conservation work.