The Wild Dogs

The wild dogs of Africa (also called "hunting dogs" or "Cape hunting dogs") have seen their numbers vastly reduced by loss of habitat, persecution by man and epidemics of canine diseases. There are perhaps only a few thousand left in all of Africa and visitors are lucky to find them.

Wild dogs are the most efficient hunters on the continent, catching up to 85% of the prey they actually chase – far more successful than the big cats. Speed, cooperation and especially endurance account for their success. They will chase prey for miles. When the lead dog tires, another member of the pack takes over in "relay race" fashion. Often, other pack members will try to outflank prey that is circling or zigzagging, cutting off its means of escape. Eventually the victim succumbs to exhaustion and it is not long before the pack brings it down.

The wild dogs are active primarily in the early mornings and late afternoons. By night, they can travel 25 miles over home territories that can exceed 600 square miles. It is these large territories that can make them difficult to find. In Ruaha National Park, for example, I spent an entire day with a guide trying to find the "local" pack to no avail. The dogs also eluded me in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana and Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe (two areas where we saw tracks, but no dogs). Fortunately, my luck changed when I reached The Selous. Within the first ten minutes of the first day out we spotted the dogs pictured here.

The dogs rest for most of the day. When the temperature cools, the pack rallies to prepare for the hunt. They greet each other, play and often gang up on low ranking members of the pack. All this is a way to reestablish the strict hierarchy of dominance within the pack. Although some of the fights might appear vicious, in fact the pack is very peaceful by nature (much more so than lions or hyenas) and injuries are rare. Instead, the dogs engage in ritualized begging and other submissive conduct.

The dogs seen here are part of a small pack of five dogs in The Selous in southern Tanzania. In other parts of Africa, packs can range up to 40 members.