Tag Archives: African Wild Dog

Painted Wolves on the move (and quickly!)

Coming across a pack of Painted Wolves, also known as African Wild Dogs, on the road to Skukuza was another special encounter from my solo visit to the Kruger National Park in May 2019. These animals are highly endangered – it is thought that fewer than 7,000 remain in the wild with the estimated 200 living in the Kruger National Park representing South Africa’s biggest population of the species. Seeing these energetic and attractive animals is therefore always thrilling!


African Wild Dog

Lycaon pictus

African Wild Dogs are large canids, standing between 60 and 80cm high at the shoulder and weighing up to 36kg. Their blotched coats have patterns as unique to each individual as our fingerprints are. Perhaps “Painted Wolves” would be a more accurate name for these enigmatic carnivores, one of Africa’s rarest species.

African Wild Dogs inhabit grasslands, marshes, savannas, woodlands and semi-deserts, where they hunt mammals ranging in size from rodents to buffaloes, though their main prey is medium-sized antelope like the impala, springbok, bushbuck, nyala and reedbuck. These dogs have great stamina, and tire out their prey by chasing it at speeds of up to 60km/h for distances of up to 6km. They are among the most successful of predators, with between 70 and 90% of their hunting attempts resulting in a kill. They kill their prey by disembowelment, and although it appears cruel is actually a much quicker death than the suffocation employed by lions and other big cats. They feed extremely quickly; a pack of nine dogs can completely devour a 100kg antelope within 15 minutes. African Wild Dogs are not dependent on the availability of drinking water, but will drink regularly if it is available.

African Wild Dogs live in closely-knit packs numbering from 2 to 50 and occupying vast home ranges. Within the pack a strict hierarchy is maintained, with only the dominant pair allowed to breed. Often all the animals of the same sex within a pack are related as new packs are formed by groups of the same sex leaving their maternal packs when they become adult at about two years of age and joining up with unrelated animals of the opposite sex. Wild Dogs hunt mostly in the early morning and late afternoon, and also on moonlit nights, and rest up in the shade during the heat of the day.

The alpha female gives birth to between 2 and 21 tiny pups annually, mostly during the dry season when prey is easier to come by. The pups are born in holes in the ground, usually abandoned aardvark or warthog burrows. All the pack members take excellent care of the pups in the pack, bringing food back to the den for small puppies and allowing older puppies to feed first at a kill. Wild Dogs are susceptible to a wide variety of infectious diseases, often causing entire packs to be wiped out, but it is bigger and stronger predators – lions, hyenas and leopards – that are the biggest natural threat to both adult and juvenile Wild Dogs. Their life expectancy in the wild is only about 10 years.

The African Wild Dog is considered endangered with their population estimated at most around 6,600 and still declining due to disease and human pressures. Centuries of persecution by hunters and farmers have decimated their numbers, eradicating them from most of their former range. Today African Wild Dogs occur in only a few scattered pockets across the continent. In total South Africa is home to only about 400 – 500 African Wild Dogs, of which roughly half occurs in and around the Kruger National Park, with smaller populations in a handful of other public and private conservation areas, including Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Tembe Elephant Park and Pilanesberg National Park.

Wild dogs on the hunt

Early one morning during our December visit to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, we were travelling slowly along one of our favourite game viewing drives, the Sontuli Loop, on our way to a picnic breakfast.

Around a corner, we encountered a pack of African Wild Dogs running down the road in the opposite direction, passing our vehicle at speed. There was at least thirteen dogs in the pack (it is very difficult trying to count them as they duck and dive through the bush and into and out of the road). We made a U-turn and followed them; it is not every day you get to see wild dogs on the hunt! Every now and then they’d stop and scan the area around them for prey, giving us an opportunity to take some photos, before setting of again.

(Click on any of the photos to enjoy the sighting with us in a carousel gallery)

The kill was over in a blur. My eye caught a flash of dogs chasing an impala lamb into a thicket. In between the excited yelping of the dogs the impala lamb gave one of two feeble bleats, and then it went quiet. Suddenly the dogs burst out of the thicket, scattering in every direction, each with a small morsel of impala in their jaws to enjoy away from the rest of their hungry pack mates. A baby impala does not go far when it has to be shared between so many mouths.

Just as unexpectedly as they first appeared, the dogs were up again, heading towards the Black Umfolozi River and out of sight. All that remained on the scene was a lonely hyena lucky enough to have found some entrails, and a bunch of vultures descending from above…

Hyena cleaning up after the wild dog kill

Hyena cleaning up after the wild dog kill



The African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus, also known as the Cape Hunting Dog or Painted Wolf) must be the African mammal with the most stamina – they’ll easily cover distances of over 40km in a day, trotting along at speeds of around 10km/h, and when hunting can maintain speeds of 48km/h for distances of up to 5km (though they seldom need to chase prey that far before taking down their quarry). At full speed, they’ll easily reach 64km/h!

We witnessed these wild dogs chasing after a herd of impala in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park during a visit in 2008.

Endurance” is the theme for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge. Information from “The Behavior Guide to African Mammals”, by Richard Despard Estes.


On most occasions you’d encounter African Wild Dogs, they’ll be running somewhere, covering enormous distances in quick time. This photograph was taken near the Afsaal picnic spot, in the Kruger National Park.

We’re participating in the online adventure travel and photography magazineLetsBeWild.com‘s Wild Weekly Photo Challenge for bloggers. This week’s challenge is “Movement“.