Motswari is home to the most endangered carnivore in South Africa and a siting of this pack will be sure to get your African bush blood pumping. African wild dogs are highly intelligent animals who, unlike many other canid species, form extremely strong social bonds with one another. Living in packs – comprised of related females, related males and pups – these socialites of the bush are truly fascinating to observe. This blog highlights the African Wild Dog's social side and was originally published on the Motswari blog.
Collective hunting community
The packs are usually dominated by a monogamous breeding pair (an alpha male and alpha female). The size of the pack ranges from about 6 – 20, with some packs having been observed to be 30 strong! Pack sizes play an integral role in the ability to hunt effectively. One will generally find that a pack of less than 6 has very little hunting success, and a pack that exceeds 20 will generally break up to form 2 smaller packs, making the hunting dynamic more effective.
New packs are formed when larger groups of brothers or sisters emigrate and join opposite-sex groups. However, if two groups merge, it is not always a given that they will just ‘get along’. If they find that they don’t, they will separate and start looking for alternative opposite-sex groups. When they find a pack they’re happy with, they will start to reproduce.
Operating as a single unit, in a pack where everyone ‘gets along’, African wild dogs are undefeatable. Considered to be the most successful hunters of any other predatory animal in the world (!!) they have a success rate of 80%. Just to give you an idea of how incredible that is, lions have a hunting success rate of just 30%. Need we say more…
When not hunting together, the packs spend their days breeding, feeding and playing. As mentioned, packs are usually dominated by an alpha male and an alpha female. When pups are born, they are cared for by the entire pack and siblings most often take on roles of protection and feeding.
Feeding is also a family affair. When the pack is out hunting, one adult wild dog will stay behind to look after smaller pups and when the hunting party returns, spirits are always high. Squealing with excitement, pups will run to the elders and beg for the regurgitation of whole chunks of meat which they gobble down eagerly. In the event that a lot of meat is left behind, the dogs that were left on sentry duty will swap with the returning hunting party and take their turn in feeding. Everyone takes care of everyone in a wild dog pack.
Bellies full, it’s time to play. The infectious light-hearted playfulness of these animals reveal the importance of play and its social consequences. Not only does it assist in developing motor skills for the pups, it also marks the beginning of social relationships. The more developed, older dogs also play. However, for them, it is a way to stimulate social interactions and also to assert dominance within the pack.
Understanding at the heart of conservation
Understanding the behaviour of these exceptional creatures is one step to conserving them as a species, but more effective is establishing new areas for them and giving them space and a suitable habitat to survive and thrive. Because of the illegal meat trade, wild dogs often find themselves victims of nasty snare traps. And, if a member of the pack gets caught in a snare, the others will come back and stay with it, putting more and more dogs at risk. If there are enough snares in one area, an entire pack can be wiped out in one go.
These unique animals have different habits, pack structures and social dynamics to any other animal in the bush. Yet misconceptions still exist and sadly, they don’t seem to receive the support they need. There are only 450 wild dogs left in South Africa. We have to do something to conserve and protect these beautiful, highly intelligent, sociable and, sadly, endangered creatures.