African wild dogs have disappeared from much of their former range (see map). They are currently found only in about 14 countries in Africa, with viable populations in only eight countries (Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe).
Population densities for African wild dogs vary considerably, but in no instances can they be considered a high density species (some of the highest densities ever recorded are only c. 4 dogs per 100km² average 2 per 100km²). Because pack size is so variable (even within a single pack over the course of a single year), it is more meaningful to talk about the number of packs – or breeding units – as the unit for wild dog populations.
There are currently estimated to be only 660 packs (or breeding females) left in the wild. This is about 6,600 adults and yearlings in 39 subpopulations. Population size is continuing to decline as a result of ongoing habitat fragmentation, conflict with human activities, and infectious disease.
Wild dogs are not listed on CITES (because they are generally not traded) and are listed on Appendix 2 of the Convention of Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS).
Click here to see the historical distribution of African Wild Dogs and here to see current distribution
African wild dogs are slender, long legged canids with individually unique coat patterns of black, brown, white and tan fur. Unlike other dogs, which have a fifth toe, a dewclaw, on their forelegs, wild dogs have only four toes per foot. They have characteristically large, rounded ears, black muzzles and tails tipped with white. Adults measure 75-110 cm in length and stand about 75cm at the shoulder. Average weight is 23-26kg.
African wild dogs are specialised social canids that live in packs of between 2 and 40 individuals; packs used to be larger before the population declined so much. The pack is usually dominated by a monogamous breeding pair; the alpha male and female. They are obligate cooperative breeders; usually only the alpha female will produce a litter of 2 to 21 pups (average c. 7), which are born in a den, and first emerge at about three weeks of age. One they are weaned (at between 5 and 12 weeks of age), the pups are cared for by the entire pack. Any individual can regurgitate meat for the pups or remain at the den during a hunt as a ‘babysitter’.
Denning season – when the pack is confined to the den to raise the litter of pups – usually lasts about three months (usually between late April and September in southern Africa). Den sites are typically burrows excavated by aardvarks (often expanded by warthogs or porcupines), or caves and crevices in rocky areas.
African wild dogs are very social, and packs have been known to share food and to assist weak or ill members. Social interactions are common, and the dogs communicate by touch, actions, and vocalizations. They often hunt as a cooperative unit; in a sprint, African wild dogs can reach speeds of more than 44 miles per hour.
Wild dogs are crepuscular, favouring the early mornings and evenings for hunting. They are not particularly active at night, except around the full moon. They are a wide-ranging, low density species and need vast areas of intact habitat to support a viable population. A single pack can range over 3,000km², but average home ranges tend to be more in the region of 300-800km². During the denning season, home ranges are severely restricted, often to as small as 80km².