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African Wild Dog facts and distribution

The African wild dog is also known as the African hunting dog, Cape hunting dog, spotted dog, painted dog, painted wolf, painted hunting dog, or ornate wolf. The species’ scientific name, Lycaon pictus is derived from the Greek for wolf and the Latin for painted. This refers to the dogs’ mottled coat of black, brown, white, russet and yellow patterns, each of which is unique to the individual.


Wild dogs are unlike other large carnivores in that they very rarely fight among themselves, either for dominance or food. They all help to care for the young, and will care for old, sick or injured pack members; regurgitating food for them and licking wounds clean.


Living things can be organised into different groups.  Species that are alike are grouped together.  This is called classification.

Class:  Mammals
Order: Carnivores
Family: Canids
Species: Lycaon pictus


African wild dogs were formerly present throughout sub-Saharan Africa.  Today they are restricted to fragmented populations mainly in southern and eastern Africa.  The largest populations remain in southern Africa and the southern part of East Africa. They are though to number fewer than 5500 individuals.

Map showing distribution of African wild dog

African Wild Dog distribution


African wild dogs reside in woodland, savannah, shrub land and grassland.  They require extensive home ranges to support them (500-1000 or more square miles), and habitat fragmentation is contributing to their continuing decline.


The African wild dog hunts at least once a day, in packs, pursuing their prey in a prolonged, open chase. They can run at speeds of around 35mph for 3 miles or more and are highly successful - nearly 80% of all dog hunts end in a kill.  They prey mainly on ungulates such as impala, kudu, Thomson's gazelle, springbok, and wildebeest.


The African wild dog has large, rounded ears, which help to keep track of pack members by picking up long distance vocal calls, and probably also help with heat loss.  It has a short broad muzzle and powerful jaw muscles that allow it to grab and hang on to its prey. Its multicoloured coat helps it to blend in with its habitat.


If they are present, the pups are allowed to feed first at a kill.  Members of the pack will regurgitate food to feed those that stayed at the den, such as those left watching pups and any old, sick or injured dogs that cannot keep up. A pack only has a home base whilst rearing the young. For the rest of the year, they roam, usually not staying in the same place for more than a day.


African wild dogs exhibit a very unusual social system - within their packs, dogs of the same sex are closely related to each other but not to individuals of the opposite sex. There are separate dominance hierarchies for each gender. Females disperse from their birth pack as a group when mature, whilst males don’t usually leave the pack in which they were born.  They form strong social bonds and interact regularly, communicating by touch, actions and vocalisations.


Wild dogs reach sexual maturity at the age of 12–18 months, but within a pack it is usually only the highest ranking male and female which breed. They have the largest litter size of any canid, containing up to 20 pups, though 10 is the average number.
The entire pack helps to feed the cubs which become proficient hunters at 12-14 months of age.

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