African Wild Dogs
Why are they studied?
African wild dogs are a fascinating social carnivore. The group dynamics of the dogs are superficially similar to other dog species such as wolves, but with only rare displays of aggression to pack members. Comparing the African wild dog to other social species gives us insights into the development of social structures in a different system. As well, wild dogs have adapted a unique approach to living with larger competitors dissimilar to that of leopards, cheetahs and spotted hyenas. The dogs are also of primary interest because they are endangered species.
Our wild dog research program is continuing into its 22nd year. Their social structure is highly developed with a dominant pair mating and subordinates supporting and raising the pups. We are currently following seven packs that average nearly 6 adults and yearling with 5 pups per pack. Our intensive tracking efforts have provided an opportunity for us to individually recognize dogs by their unique coat patterns. These patterns are drawn onto a datasheet with an outline of the right and left sides as well as hindquarters, where identification is easiest. Through these drawings we have determined that many of these packs have individuals from the same lineage, with neighboring packs related as siblings or extended family. Thus far, the survivorship of the 2009 pups is approximately 50%. The 2010 litter of pups is due in June- July, when denning season begins.
Territory Size and Movements
The wild dogs are also highly territorial and the average territory size is 605km². There is strong site fidelity in the dogs, but the packs occasionally venture out of their territory until they encounter signs of other packs. This territorial behavior is the basis for our BioBoundary project.
Wild dogs opportunistically feed as they hunt. Most often they encounter impala, which are their primary prey. The dogs hunt as a group although claims of cooperative hunting are still strongly debated. When kills are made, the pups are brought to the carcass where they are allowed to feed first.
African wild dogs are the most endangered species that we study with estimates around 5,000 individuals in the wild. We are the longest running program focused on the ecology and conservation of the African wild dog. Northern Botswana has the largest population of wild dogs and is therefore a key study area for their conservation.
For a detailed history of the African wild dog, please pick up a copy of "Running Wild: Dispelling the Myths of the African Wild Dogs" written by BCPT founders, John W. McNutt and Lesley Boggs McNutt. (Southern Book Publishers, ISBN 1 86812 717 6)