About African Wild Dogs

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Wild Dogs of South Africa

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African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus), also called hunting dogs, are medium-sized carnivores. Adults are approximately the size of a labrador dog but are slimmer and light for their size, weighing an average of 25 kilograms (55 pounds).

Wild dogs have brindled coats of brown, black, yellow and white. They all have similar black face masks and white-tipped tails. The rest of the pattern is distinct for each dog. Large, rounded ears allow dogs to hear over long distances. They have very sharp shearing teeth.

Wild dogs are typically found in savannah grassland and woodland. They have also been seen at altitudes of 5,600 metres (18,480 feet) in the snow of Kilimanjaro or in the heat of deserts. They are most active in the early morning and evening and lie in shade during the day.

Wild dogs are surprisingly vocal. A birdlike yittering is often heard when the dogs greet one another. Alarmed dogs will bark: distressed puppies occasionally give a squeaky hoo-call. Lions generally ignore wild dogs but will feed on the dogís kills after chasing them off.

Packs consist of a dominant breeding pair, five to six other adults and dependent young. With litters averaging 10, and bitches capable of producing 16 puppies, packs can build up to number as many as 50. Young females emigrate at between 18 months and three years of age: young males normally remain in their natal pack.

Like their hunting behaviour, the breeding system of wild dogs is an example of remarkable cooperation. In each pack only the dominant pair breeds: the other dogs help to rear their offspring. This is for the good of the pack since all dogs are related but only the strongest genes are passed on. Breeding coincides with the rains.

Gestation lasts approximately 10 weeks and the dominant female whelps in a den. For the first fortnight the female suckles the litter, spending long periods underground with them. After two weeks in the den, puppies make their first unsteady forays outside and begin to feed on meat regurgitated to them by all the pack members. Within a month or so, they are feeding on meat alone.

Wild dogs kill a wide range of animals but specialize on small to medium-sized antelopes such as Thomsonís gazelles and wild beest. In bushed and wooded habitats their preferred prey are impalas. Such ungulates represent the vast majority of their kills, although they opportunistically snap up gazelle fawns, hares, hatchlings and other small prey they chance across. Antelopes as large as eland are only rarely taken.

Packs normally hunt once a dayómore often if the group is large or there are puppies to be fed. Prey size also influences the number of hunts: a wildebeest will obviously satisfy more dogs than a gazelle.

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