The wild dog of Africa is best known as the Painted Dog. You can see why. With their bright spots and big round ears, these dogs can’t be missed as they travel in packs through the savannah. Another term for them is the Cape Hunting Dog. Their stride and confidence say, “Don’t mess with us.” For a video (without bloodshed), click here (Wild Dog Pack).
Painted Dogs are fierce enemies, but within the pack they are gentle as lambs. They like to nuzzle and brush against each other. When one gets sick, the rest nurse it back to health. They cooperate in raising litters of pups. After a successful hunt, Painted Dogs save some meat to carry home to the puppies, adults who stayed behind babysitting, and sick or injured pack members.
Life in the wild is dangerous so they take good care of each other. They don’t fight over females. When two of them have their eyes on the same morsel of food, the competition takes a strange form. They try to outdo each other in their begging performance. Each puts on such a pitiful display of hunger that eventually one gives in and walks away.
The intelligence of Painted Dogs and their ability to carry out complicated hunting strategies pays off. At least eighty percent of their hunts end in a kill—a much higher rate than that of most African predators. Lions are lucky to bring down prey thirty percent of the time. In fact, they often steal carcasses from Painted Dogs.
Painted Dog packs are large and need space. With Africans taking over more land for ranching, some dogs have developed a taste for farm animals—a habit that has backfired on them. Farmers now hunt and kill Painted Dogs. The dogs also pick up diseases from farm dogs. An outbreak of rabies, distemper or parvo can threaten the lives of an entire pack.
The African Painted Dogs are among the most intelligent dogs in the world. They don’t rely on instinct alone to tell them what to do. They depend on knowledge that has been passed from generation to generation. This includes information about hunting strategies, the best places to find water and food, and the dangers that surround them.
The wild dogs of Africa are an endangered species. Once there were over half a million. Now there are fewer than 5000. Painted Dogs can still be found in the countries shown on the map. Because they need such large ranges, they are hard to raise in captivity.