Biodinâmica starts today the theme “Species of the week” and has chosen for pioneer the African Wild Dog, also known as Mabeco.
Scientific name: Lycaon pictus
Diet: Carnivore – mostly antelope (e.g. Impala (Aepyceros melampus), Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), Thomson’s Gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii) and Common Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)
Average life span in the wild: 11 years
Size: 75 to 110 cm
Weight: 18 to 36 kg
Group name: Pack
The African Wild Dog, also known in Mozambique as Mabeco, is one of the most successful predators in the world.
Selflessness, teamwork, compassion, loyalty and intelligence are all endearing anthropomorphic qualities that could be assigned to the African wild dog. And it is these qualities that make them so successful as a species.There are stories of dogs that have survived on three, even two limbs, for several years thanks to the loyalty and generosity of pack dynamics. A dog that was monitored by the National Wild Dog Metapopulation Project, the KwaZulu-Natal Wild Dog Advisory Group (KZNWAG) and WildlifeACT even broke its jaw and lived for years on food that was regurgitated by his pack mates.
Packs can be as small as two animals but, to be evolutionarily stable, there should be a minimum of six dogs and no more than 30 in a pack.
In a healthy pack, there will tend to be two alpha dogs – one male and one female – followed by the rest of the pack of gamma dogs.
Pack ranking is determined by submission rather than aggression, and the whole pack is dedicated to protecting the pups, as well as to hunting. Wild dogs have high energy levels and play almost continuously – even straight after eating – as a way of bonding.
They chase their prey to the point of exhaustion by holding a steady pace, as opposed to the cheetah’s use of short bursts of speed.
They kill by disemboweling their victims, which is why they get their reputation for being cruel killers. But when executed properly, this process is significantly faster than the suffocation tactic of leopards and lions. However, recent data refutes this idea and revealed that the dogs chased almost all of their prey over short runs rather than long pursuits. Plus, they didn’t coordinate their attacks, and they never showed signs of teamwork during this study. (Read more here)
Lower ranking dogs tend to initiate the hunts and run the risk of injury, while the breeding pair is kept out of harm’s way. This protocol also means that the underdogs have the chance to guzzle down a couple of mouthfuls before the top dogs and the puppies arrive. Unlike lions, the little ones take priority at the kill.
The alpha dogs sleep next to each other, at times even piddling on each other, and they keep the pack bonded. Socially they’re monogamous, but reproductively they’re promiscuous for the sake of future generations. It also means that the other males in the pack are invested in raising puppies, as there is always the chance that one of the newborns is their own.
A female wild dog can give birth to between 10 and 17 puppies, and their survival rate is proportional to the amount of adults in the pack, which will bring regurgitated food for the nursing mother and the pups. Lower ranking females have also been known to give birth, although their pups have a lower survival rate. The gestation period is about 70 days.
The African wild dog used to occur across the continent, but today this canine is extinct in west and north Africa. However, there are certain strongholds that are being monitored in various countries, such as Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
The Selous-Niassa wildlife corridor in Mozambique also plays a pivotal role as the second largest wild dog population in the world today, and the species has somewhat thrived in South Africa due to the protection that a few private and small reserves provide. Meanwhile Tanzania is home to 20% of the global population of African wild dogs, and an important discovery has also been the 40 to 100 wild dogs that have been located in the Chinko Nature Reserve in the Central African Republic.
The causes of African Wild Dogs’ decline are reasonably well understood and include habitat fragmentation, conflict with livestock and game farmers, accidental killing by people in snares and road accidents, captures to replenish zoo populations across the globe and infectious diseases spread by domestic animals.
As is so often the case, humans are part of the solution as well as the problem. And the African wild dog is now dependent on rural communities for its survival.
Turning poachers into protectors through job creation and education is, therefore, a long-term solution to this problem. Initiating vaccination campaigns for domestic dogs in these rural areas is also of utmost importance. The formation of wildlife corridors and the dropping of fences between protected areas is vital for the dogs to be able to migrate properly and form new packs without the risk of inbreeding or requiring intensive management. Also, good fences and proper management on boundaries with community areas are key to successful conservation.