A century ago, packs of Lycaon pictus, or painted dog, more than 100 members strong roamed free on the Serengeti Plains. Today the picture is very different, with less than 5 000 dogs living behind fences in African reserves. Good news for visitors to Madikwe is that highly endangered African wild dog packs are flourishing in the reserve.

Wild dogs of Madikwe

A founding group of six African wild dogs was introduced to the Madikwe Game Reserve in 1994. Despite lion attacks and rabies outbreaks, the pack slowly grew in number and established a resident clan. Today, there are three wild dog hunting packs in Madikwe.

The dogs are extremely active. A first impression and first sighting is often a blur of white and brown markings and the flash of a tail as members of a pack jump, twist, turn and run in a flurry of movement. Wild dogs are full of energy and constantly play and chase one another as they move through the bush.

An endangered species

There are a number of reasons for the drastic decline in numbers of the African wild dog, most associated with humans.

Land clearance has destroyed habitat; urbanisation has reduced their hunting grounds; exposure to infectious diseases carried by domestic dogs has resulted in many deaths and they’ve been shot and poisoned.

Wild dog populations in central and north-east Africa have been wiped out, and across Africa their numbers continue to decline, earning these canids an endangered status.

The painted hunting dog

The wild dog is easily identified by its its splotched coat of brown, white, black and yellow.

This carnivorous canine is labelled the Lycaon pictus, or painted hunting dog, for a great reason – no two dogs bear the same markings.

A favourite at Jaci’s Lodges, the wild dog has a unique bush signature – a front pawprint showing four toes (other canids have five).

Highly social animals, wild dogs live in packs of five to 15, led by an alpha male or female.

The pack is govered by a strict social hierarchy. Each dog shares in the spoils of a hunt, and each pack member (whether male or female) contributes to caring for the pups.

The anatomy of the hunt

Wild dogs are extremely active and need to make a kill a day on average to keep their energy levels up.

Excellent hunters, they target prey cooperatively in packs, using stamina rather than stealth, and comunicating using a range of vocalisations, including a short bark of alarm, a rallying howl and a bell-like contact call.

After singling out an injured or old animal in the herd, the hunting pack will boldy approach. As the herd stampedes, the dogs will chase down their prey. Dogs have been known to pursue prey for more than an hour, using the white tips of their bushy tails as flags to keep the pack in contact.

The hunting clan will eat the prey on the spot. They then return to the rest of the pack and regurgitate food for the young and injured.