Zoo Boise Logo

African Wild Dog


Other Common Names: Cape Hunting Dog, Painted Dog
Order: Carnivora
Genus & Species: Lycaon pictus
Family: Canidae


Listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.


Although formerly distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the range of African wild dogs has been greatly reduced. The largest populations remain in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique.


African wild dogs can occupy a variety of habitats including plains, semi-desert, woodlands, upland forest, and bushy savanna.


Pack home ranges can be as large as 2000 square kilometers but are often restricted to areas of less than 200 square kilometers. African wild dogs live in packs led by a monogamous breeding pair. Pack size ranges from 2 to 40 individuals, with a successful pack averaging 7–15 members. Packs are composed of related sexes. New packs are formed when subgroups of the same sex, usually siblings, disperse and join a group of the opposite sex. Offspring usually remain within their pack until two years of age. Packs are quite altruistic and have been documented sharing food and assisting weak and ill members. Although they are primarily diurnal, African wild dogs exhibit crepuscular hunting behavior, venturing out at dusk and dawn when the weather is cooler and they are less likely to confront other predators.


35-80 pounds (average 55 lbs.). They are 35-50 inches from head to body. Their height at the shoulder is 27–35 inches.


Approximately 10 years in the wild.


Lycanon pictus, translates to “painted wolf” as African wild dogs have a colorful, mottled coat in shades of red, black, brown, white, and yellow. No two wild dogs are marked the same, making individual identification rather easy. The fur covering their body is short, except for the neck where it is slightly longer. They have large bat-like ears and a bushy tail with a white tip. These slender, long-legged canines have only four toes per foot, unlike other dogs, which have five toes on their forefeet.

Ecology, Adaptations, Etc:

Pack size is extremely important to the overall success of African wild dogs. While they are excellent hunters, their success is dependent on cooperative chases led by the dominant male. Wild dogs will chase the prey item until it tires and they will eventually disembowel the prey. Larger packs increase the variety of prey they can subdue and decrease the odds individual dogs will fatigue. When deciding on a hunt, wild dogs have been documented to sneeze to cast their vote of when it is time head out. A certain percentage of sneezes are needed by the pack before they move on, acting like a quorum. If the dominant male or female are involved in the vote, a fewer number of other pack members are needed to decide.

Wild dogs are not particularly territorial as they do not regularly mark their territory with urine and are tolerant of scavengers at their kills. One exception to this is spotted hyenas, as African wild dogs have been documented to defend carcasses from them. In general, wild dogs tend to avoid areas with lions since they cannot easily defend themselves. Possible adaptations to living with lions include maintaining larger pack sizes to allow babysitters to remain with the young during hunting or producing larger litters to sustain a certain amount of mortality. Lions will not only easily steal kills from African wild dogs, but some studies suggest that lions may kill up to 32 percent of African wild dogs.

Conservation Issues:

There are an estimated 6,600 adult wild dogs in 39 subpopulations range-wide. Habitat fragmentation is the biggest threat to their persistence due to large home range requirements. Wild dogs often need to cross roads or leave preserve lands to satisfy their resource needs. As a result, they suffer road mortality as well as cross into areas with competing predators such as lions and spotted hyenas. In addition, unjust human persecution threatens the species. People incorrectly believe they attack livestock and thus kill wild dogs. Poachers are also a threat, since many dogs are caught in snare traps set for other species. Furthermore, African wild dogs are susceptible to contagious diseases from domestic dogs, such as distemper and rabies.