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Falkland Island Wolf
Dusicyon australis
African Wild Dog
Lycaon pictus
  (Temminck, 1820)
Racoon Dog
Nyctereutes procyonoides
  Owner:   C. Michael Hogan    

Adult Painted Hunting Dog guarding a den occupied by the alpha female and her pups, northern Botswana.
Painted Hunting Dog
Lycaon pictus

C. Michael Hogan PhD
January 31, 2009

The Painted Hunting Dog is one of the most critically endangered carnivores in Africa, with approximately 5000 individuals extant. The early Holocene species population is estimated at about one half million, and the prehistoric range covered virtually all of the non-desert, non-jungle area of sub-Saharan Africa. In the last several decades, the habitat of L. Pictus has become severely fragmented due to expansion of the human population in Africa, and numbers have dwindled. The species has been historically termed "African Wild Dog", which name is declining in usage, due to pejorative aspects of such a name.

Subspecies L.p. pictus adults relaxing, whilst guarding a maternity den, Kwando River floodplain, Botswana.
There are five acknowledged subspecies: L.p. pictus (Southern Africa), L.p. lupinus (East Africa), L.p. manguensis (West and Central Africa), L.p. saharicus (Sahara) and L.p. somalicus (Horn of Africa). Based upon the detailed geographic analysis in the following, the last three subspecies can be clearly considered critically endangered due to the extremely low populations in their sub-regions and the ongoing severe threats in those areas.

Until as recently as the 1970s L. pictus had a broad distribution within sub-Saharan Africa. Presently Botswana has one of the most robust populations with an estimated 150 individuals in the northeast part of the Okavango Delta, encompassing the eastern part of the Moremi Game Reserve. The area is approximately 3,000 square kilometres. This region is protected not just by paper legislation, but due to the care and concern of the Botswanan people. In Namibia, approximately 200 wild dogs are estimated to have existed by 2008, with the population dying off by about ten percent per annum. Virtually all of the sightings are in Tsumkwe East and West Caprivi. Livestock grazing and poaching account for the majority of the decline of the species in Namibia.

L pictus is thought to be extirpated in Algeria, with surveys ongoing to determine a possible relict pack in the Teffedest Mountains. In Niger, populations of this canid were viable at the Air of Niger and the Tanezrouft west of the Hoggar Mountains, and now the Painted Hunting Dog is thought to be extirpated for all of Niger. In Chad there may as many as 50 animals, but some sources regard these relict populations in the Tibesti Mountains and Lake Chad as extirpated, partially from Darfur refugee turmoil and other Sudan generated conflict. As far as Sudan, information is difficult due to the ongoing human genocide, but relict populations were noted in the 1990s numbering up to 100 dogs in the impenetrable As Sudd and in the Dinder National Park. In Ethiopia a finite number of relict packs were noted in the 1990s including at Fincha in the Dindessa Valley, Nechisar National Park, Katcha, Harenna Forest, Sanneti Plateau, Bale Mountains National Park (where it had co-existed with the Ethiopian Wolf), Filtu, Ogaden, Jijiga, Awash National Park and a site south of Oromia. In Eritrea the Painted Hunting Dog is thought to be extirpated, with packs having been sighted in the 1980s in the Gash-Barka and southern Anseba regions. In Burkina Faso the species is likely extinct, with last sightings in Arli National Park

In Nigeria relict populations existed into the late 20th century, especially in the Old Oyo National Park area, but some sources deem L pictus extirpated in that country, due to human population expansion and associated agricultural pressure. In the case of Benin, the Painted Hunting Dog is believed to have been virtually extirpated in the 1970s due to deforestation (Sayer) and successive land conversion to agriculture; however, limited re-appearance is noted in the Pendjari Biosphere Reserve. In Angola the species is likely extinct with last sightings in the Cuando-Cubango area. With regard to Burundi, L. pictus is regarded as extirpated, with late 20th century populations having existed within the Central Zambezian Miombo woodlands. region. In Uganda the species is likely extirpated with the last relict packs having been in Fazao Malfacassa Game Reserve, and on the Mazala, Kpeya and Kibidi Mountains. Within Cameroon, approximately 60 Painted Hunting Dogs survive into the third millennium, chiefly in Faro, Benoue and Bouba Ndjida National Parks. In Sierra Leone the species is likely extinct, with last sighting in Outamba-Kilimi National Park. Cameroon populations are considered critically endangered due to deforestation, desertification and generally from the expanding human population. In Senegal small populations may still occur in the Niokolo-Koba National Park.The species is considered extinct in both the Congo and Congo-Kinshasa.

In Malawi, the Painted Hunting Dog is thought to be extirpated, with the last relict population occurring in the Eastern Miombo woodlands east of Lake Malawi. The last relict populations survived in Gabon into the 1980s near Franceville, but are now deemed extirpated. In Mali L. pictus is considered extinct. In Mozambique, the species status is uncertain, but securing a cross border link to Gona re Zhou National Park could have beneficial effects for habitat continuity.

In Kenya up to 250 dogs may be present in areas such as the Masai Mara. In the Ivory Coast the species is deemed extirpated, although relict populations survived in the Comoé National Park into the late 20th century; uncontrolled slash-and-burn along with overgrazing and poaching afflicts at least two thirds of this UNESCO reserve.The species is deemed extirpated in Rwandi, Djibouti, Burkino Faso.

In South Africa, the species was historically widely distributed and even reached the Cape as late as 1684, but now is limited to Kruger, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi and other northern reserves, with an extant population of less than 400. Re-introduction has occurred at Mkhuze, Madikwe, Pilanesberg and Venetia, but conclusive outcomes have not been determined.

There is little sexual dimorphism in this species with adults attaining body mass to 36 kg and lengths to 110 cm plus tail extension to an additional 40 cm.(Novak) Pelage exhibits a short fur of mottled yellow, red, black and white patches. This animal is lean and muscular, built for running endurance. Each foot manifests four toes. Characteristically the bushy tail has a white tip. Ears are ovoid and sizable.

The pack chooses a den location which affords a good burrow, but which also ideally has some shade to protect pups from the harsh sun when they first begin to venture from the den. This shade also helps to mitigate against high burrow temperatures in the hot season. A typical burrow landform might consist of loamy soil which was colonised by termites. After construction of the termite mound to pulverise and soften the soil, an aardvark may have used this locale for rooting. A culmination of decades of earthwork by these two pioneer species will then be the formation of a more intricate den by the Painted Hunting Dog pack, building upon the previous subsurface work of others.

L. pictus oftern shares its habitat with other high level predators, seeking some of the same prey. For example, Caracal caracal, Panthera pardus and Panthera leo are predators who may share some of the African bush and scrubland with L. pictus. The Vumbura Plains of northern Botswana represents such an ecosystem.

L. pictus forms packs typically ranging from seven to 40 members, each pack having a territory ranging from 200 to 2500 square kilometres. Hunting may occur in an extended crespuscular period, ranging from dawn to mid-morning and then again from mid-afternoon until dusk. After an exhausting period hunting the pack typically returns to the den for a drink of water and rest. Typical of this relaxation wind-down, I observed one Botswanan pack returning to their den in the late afternoon each day; they characteristically circled in a great arc around the den to look for predators and at the same time had a relaxing period of cool-down wading and drinking from the waters of the Kwando River marsh. Prey are typically twice the body mass of L. pictus itself, and prey detection is by sight, not scent.

After the prey is caught they guard the useful meat, and will drive off other carnivores such as hyena; some predators such as the Batteleur Eagle, who are content with meager spoils, will wait patiently until the pack has left the remnant kill.

This species is critically endangered, primarily due to the rapid expansion of the human population in Sub-Saharan Africa. The concern is amplified due to the considerable habitat required for sustaining a single pack, so that ongoing habitat fragmentation poses a significant threat to the L. pictus population. In a number of African countries, nominal protection is afforded; however, in practise, widespread protection of the areas required for habitat conservation is not in place, due to extensive illegal poaching as well as unlawful encroachment of habitat for human use.


* R.H.N. Smithers. 1971. The mammals of Botswana, Mem. Mus. Nat. Hist. Monum. Rhod. 4:1:340
* Joshua Ross Ginsberg and David Whyte Macdonald Foxes. 1990. Wolves, Jackals, and Dogs: An Action Plan for the Conservation of Canids, IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Species Survival Commission. Wolf Specialist Group, 116 pages ISBN 2880329965
* J.A. Sayer and A.A. Green. 1984. The distribution and status of large mammals in Benin, Mammal Review, Volume 14, Issue 1, Pages 37-50
* R. Woodroffe and Ginsberg. 1999. Conserving the African wild dog Lycaon pictus. I. Diagnosing and treating causes of decline. Oryx 33:132.
* R. Nowak. 1999. Walkers Mammals of the World'', Sixth Edition, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore

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