The Cape Hunting Dog or African Wild Dog is not only Africa's most endangered predator but also the continent's most successful hunter, in some places having a kill success rate of over 80%.
Vicious Killers or Swift Predators
Wild Dogs chase their prey to exhaustion, biting into the animal in flight, and they can consume a kill in a matter of minutes. It may well be these facts that lead to the great misunderstanding that wild dogs are vicious killers. The truth is that the prey species of Wild Dogs suffer a great deal less than the prey of other predators due to the swiftness of the kill.
Historically widespread across sub-Saharan Africa Wild Dogs are now confined to a few protected areas of Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania. It is believed that there are only around 3000 free ranging Wild Dogs left in Africa today.
Breeding and Social Structure
Wild Dogs are highly sociable and are found in packs of up to 50 individuals. An interesting fact about their social structure is that it is only the alpha male and alpha female in each pack that breed - but the young are looked after by all individuals in the pack. There are occasions, however, where other females in a pack have given birth to pups.
At sexual maturity individuals, predominantly females, will leave the pack and join up with other packs or start their own packs if the suitable companions are found. This behavior prevents alpha males breeding with their offspring.
Understanding the Hunt
Wild Dog will generally hunt in packs, but not as coordinated as once thought. In the past it was believed that they hunted in relays, with individuals constantly taking over the chase from others but this has since been disproved. It would not make much sense to have relays as all the members in the chase would still run the same distance - and even expend more energy catching up to take over the lead chase.
Where the misunderstanding may have stemmed from is the habit of the dogs to scatter prey at the beginning of the hunt, with individuals targeting separate prey. When a dog gives up on its chosen prey it will often join another dog in the chase, adding to the idea of taking over in a relay-style hunt.
Wild Dog Prey
Wild Dogs hunt prey according to availability and size of pack. The predominant prey in most areas is smaller antelope such as impala and gazelles but in some cases zebras have been hunted. Wild Dogs do not generally scavenge, preferring to eat what they kill.
Read about the Madikwe Wild Dog Project