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Juba and the African Wild Dog

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

Juba the thinking dog here and I’m ever so excited about the topic I chose for this month. In that I am a dog, I thought I’d take a look at one of my own species that is found in Africa. Well, as it turns out, I picked a dog that is NOT my species, yet belongs to the canine family. I’m talking about the African Wild Dog, Lycaon pictus, whereas I am Canis lupus famillaris. It is because of its highly specialized diet, dentition, and lack of dewclaws that this dog springs from a different gene pool than me.

Another reason I chose such an interesting subject is because of the trouble this species is in. It is estimated that about 6,600 adults live in 39 subpopulations that are threatened by habitat fragmentation, human persecution, and outbreaks of disease. Sadly, only about 250 individuals are to be found in the largest subpopulation, therefore the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has red-listed this animal that has been severely endangered since 1990.

Just like me, the African wild dog is a highly social animal. They live in packs, but are often separated by sex with dominance hierarchies existing for the female, just as the male. Unique among these animals is the fact that the female separates from the natal pack once they hit sexual maturity as opposed to the males. The wild dog’s main diet, the antelope, is usually chased to exhaustion until it drops. It is the baby that always eats first, and they usually hunt in the daylight hours.

This guy fascinates me and I am taken aback by three characteristics that set him apart: coat color, diet, and most of all, its ability to catch prey by dramatically outrunning it across huge expanses of savannah. Its coat, designed for communication, concealment and regulation of temperature, is somewhat long and usually is a mottled patch-work of brown, white, yellow, red and black splotches. Their ears are huge and rounded on the end. Internally they house a graceful skeleton that aids in speed. Plus, as said, they only have four digits instead of five on their forefeet, which also adds to speed and stride. Except for the hyena, this mammal carries premolars that are largest to body size of any living carnivore. In addition, lower molars have evolved into cutting blades to aid in tearing flesh.

The social bonds of these doggies are uncommonly solid. Unlike most hunting packs, say for example the lion or hyena, the African wild dog never hunts or sleeps alone. The packs are permanent and usually number anywhere from two to 27. The oldest female remains the leader and makes way for males and of course, the babies. But, these remarkable hunters have gathered in packs of hundreds during the seasonal migrations, as with wildebeests and springboks. When considering elaborate facial expressions and body language, as observed in the grey wolf, these critters have little to none. It is believed this lack thereof is due to a lesser social hierarchy within the pack. And, too, as noted these guys remain together and have little need for expression to regain status.

Such dogs that live in East Africa appear to have no absolute breeding season, however April to July is breeding season in South Africa. A single lone male often accompanies a female in estrus, but after mating they are not seen together again. Gestation lasts 69-73 days with the interval between pregnancies being 12 to 14 months. Of all the canids this animal produces more offspring than any other, with litters reaching as many as six to 16 babies at a time. This means a single female can produce enough young to create a new pack every year. After giving birth, the mother will remain in the den with the babies until they can eat meat, around three to four weeks. Pups are weaned at five weeks when they are fed regurgitated meat by the other pack members. After weaning, at around eight to 10 weeks, the pack leaves the den and the young trail behind. At a kill, these younger ones are always allowed to eat first until they are yearlings.

Unlike most pack animals, African wild dogs depend on the entire pack to rear the young. This is to say that both male and females are involved in that care. All but the nursing mother carry out the hunt and bring regurgitated meat to the mother as well as her young. These dogs also work together to care for the sick and dying. There is little conflict within the pack and little aggression exhibited among pack members. Every hunting pack has a dominate pair, and usually maintain those bonds through life. Wild dogs have quite the range of vocalizations and can be heard over long distances.

There are hearty organized efforts taking place to save the wild dog. In some areas this involves working together with various organizations to make space for wild dogs, as well as the cheetah. The Range Wide Conservation Program for Cheetahs and the African Wild Dog works across Africa with all countries that can help these animals survive. This conservation program was initiated in 2007. Because cheetahs and wild dogs encompass such a large area, their survival requires coordinated conservation action on a massive scale rarely seen in terrestrial endeavors to save species.

With all they have working against them, wild dogs are also forced to deal with disease. Rabies helped to drive this animal to extinction in both the Serengeti and Maasai Mara. Wild dogs living outside protected areas where domestic dogs exist can easily contract both rabies and distemper. In response, there is an urgent need to initiate or revive veterinary vaccination campaigns. Indeed, there is much we can do to save these valuable doggies and a quick Google session will fill in all the blanks, if need be.

I am ever so happy to be a basic domesticated dog and am thankful for all the care I receive. The African wild dog needs a lot of help or they will become extinct. That’s quite the comparison. Building these populations is a must, for they help to maintain the environment for other species. Check it out and help in any way you can. I, on the other hand, will be around to give the facts and hopefully offer some education otherwise ignored.

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