This summary doesn’t begin to address the subject in depth, to do so would require a book, but I hope you’ll find what I’ve written interesting nonetheless. My biggest problem with this was not spending all week on it… the topic is so interesting, and almost every fact led to a question. (Territorial? Well, that’s a highly variable concept. How does it differ between species, say dogs and wolves for example.) You can see the problem here, but one of the great things about science is that it every answer generates new questions. That’s heaven for discovery junkies like me.
AFRICAN WILD DOGS Lycaon pictus:
Also known as Cape Hunting Dogs or Painted Dogs, these canids are not “dogs” at all (note they are in a different genus than wolves and dogs). Called the wolves of Africa, they are highly social, territorial carnivores who are more dependent on group hunting than any other canid. They specialize in medium sized prey (Impala are their preferred prey) and like Hyenas, tend to rely on running their prey to exhaustion rather than the classic stalk and pounce of some canids and most big cats. (They also, like Hyenas, hunt mostly at night, thus stalking is of less importance under the cover of darkness.) They do NOT run in “relays” as often described, but tend to run in loose groups, well spread out, so that a zig-zagging quarry has a higher chance of running into another pack member when they change direction. AWDs have incredible stamina: they can run 5 km at 30 mph.
I’m not sorry I missed seeing a kill. AWDs have an incredibly high success rate as hunters (about 85%) and usually disembowl and begin consuming their prey before the animal is dead. Granted, it is probably in shock, and well might not be feeling anything at all, but I’ve seen a crocodile consume a Gazelle, and 3 African Bullalo kill another full grown buffalo, and a lion with a freshly killed zebra foal–and that’s enough for me.
Their social system is similar in many ways to that of wolves. There is usually only one breeding pair (but note there are exceptions in wolves, not sure if true in AWDs), along with non-breeding adults who also care for the young and provision the mother and pups. Unlike most social mammals in which the males leave the group and the females stay, related males stay in the pack in this species and older females emigrate if the pack becomes too large. They are completely reliant on being in a group. One study I read said that less than a group of less than 6 or 8 AWDs were incapable of successful reproduction (due no doubt to less predatory success). Their packs can become quite large, sometimes as many as 20 to 40 dogs will live in one pack.
What’s different about AWDs and Wolves is how the breeding pair maintain their rank. Apparently there are very few overt displays of aggression; you see almost none of the facial displays, growls or dominance related actions that are commonly seen in wolves. AWDs were believed at one point not to have a social hierarchy, but careful study found that wild dogs assert their social status by assuming the same stalking posture that they use when hunting or by simply supplanting (taking the space of) another. You DO see a lot of submissive behavior, from ears-back, toothy-grinned submission displays, food begging & whining. Adults will often regurgitate food to adult pack members who missed out on a kill (which happens often, since the hunting pack is so dispersed and the food is usually consumed within just a few minutes.) (more…)