Wild Dogs in Africa Are Endangered – the Need for Conservation
One of the highlights of a safari trip in 2023 is to see the wild dogs in Africa. One of the most fascinating predators of the savanna, the African Wild Dog is a vital jigsaw in the ecosystem but, sadly, it’s listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List. It is important to understand the many threats facing these Painted Wolves in Africa and the need for unique conservation programs in the sub-Saharan African region. The species has been given many common names, such as Cape Hunting Dog, Painted Wolf, African Wild Dog, or Wild Dog.
The last census of wild dogs recorded approximately 6600 individuals in Africa, making them the second most threatened carnivore on the continent after the Ethiopian Wolf. Wild dogs roam 14 of the 39 African countries from whence they originally came, meaning that they have lost 93% of their historic range thanks to human impacts.
A dream holiday safari to explore the challenges facing the endangered African wild dog and the efforts being made to protect and conserve Africa’s most successful hunter could be yours. Africa is so much more than a Big 5 adventure – it’s also a thrilling Cape hunting dog destination and there is nothing quite like seeing these animals on the move, running as a pack across enormous wild landscapes to tire out their herbivore prey.
The amazing African wild dog is a charismatic predator endemic to awe-inspiring national parks and game reserves in South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana.
Also known as the Painted dog or Cape hunting dog, wild dogs are increasingly threatened due to exploding human-wildlife conflict on the continent.
The largest indigenous wild dog in Africa, this species (Lycaon pictus) and the gray wolf (Canis lupus) both come from the same ancestor. The wolf lineage divided and changed over time and it’s fascinating to learn that the canid family comprises 35 different living species. Eight North American species include gray wolves, red wolves, coyotes, red foxes, gray foxes, kit foxes, swift foxes and arctic foxes. African wild dogs, meanwhile, also belong to the Canidae family with their wolf and dog cousins but wolves are from the genus Canis and wild dogs are from the genus Lycaeon.
Best Places to See African Wild Dogs on Safari
Painted wolves or African hunting dogs are a highly endangered species and are protected in several national parks in Africa. A carnivore safari into the likes of Kruger National Park, Gorongosa, the Masai Mara, Serengeti, Zambia’s famous South Luangwa National Park, Hwange, and the Okavango Delta is life-changing. An exciting cross-country tour tracking wild dogs and participating in scientific research to tag and release these dogs could be the extraordinary safari of the future.
Yes, some conservation organizations welcome keen volunteers to assist them in tracking and monitoring Cape hunting dogs/painted wolves in famous game reserves. Imagine helping game rangers use hand-held GPS devices to ID animals, set up camera traps, track the dogs using satellite telemetry and follow their spoor on foot. A true safari holiday, walking through the wilderness to find endangered species is the root of responsible tourism and sustainable travel – and visitors will gain in-depth knowledge about ecosystems and wildlife.
Explore these safari destinations in Africa, rated some of the best places to see the wild dogs of Africa in their natural habitat:
Kruger National Park, South Africa
The famous Kruger National Park is home to the healthiest population of wild dogs in South Africa where several packs of these rare carnivores use collaborative hunting techniques and unique sounds to communicate. They prey on impalas, kudus, and other small creatures. The Endangered Wildlife Trust Wild Dog Project monitors and studies the wild dog population in Kruger.
Wild dogs are highly threatened in Africa, their numbers on the decline, but in Kruger, the population is a stable 300 animals in 30 packs. Kruger is the stronghold for the painted wolf in South Africa, the other two subpopulations being free-roaming packs in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga – and a smaller group managed in smaller reserves in the country.
Every two hours, the EWT gets updates from the collars on one single dog per 21 packs in Kruger, tracking their movements and habits. Soon all 30 packs of wild dogs will be monitored in this way. Collars store locations, transmitted via satellites to a central database.
Do you fancy seeing African wild dogs on your South Africa safari in Kruger National Park check out our selection of wildlife safari packages here.
Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique
Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique is one of Africa’s most important conservation areas and provides essential habitat for wild dogs in Africa which have faced significant threats in the past, including civil war and poaching. Conservation efforts have helped to revive the population, now thriving in several active wild dog packs.
It all began in 2018, when a combined effort by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), the Wild Dog Advisory Group (WAG), the Mozambique government and Gorongosa National Park management translocated 6 females and 9 adult males from Phongola Nature Reserve, Lake Jozini, KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Then, a year later, 9 adult males and 6 females were translocated from Khamab Kalahari Reserve in South Africa’s North West Province to Gorongosa.
After a gap of more than 25 years, today scientists have counted more than an astounding 100 individuals! The entire African wild dog population disappeared from a thriving wilderness area in Gorongosa National Park during the destructive Mozambique civil war, 1977 – 1992. In 2020, 50 pups were born, 22 of which emerged from the two new packs of wild dogs released in 2019.
Gorongosa is so vast that the Cape hunting dogs have yet to traverse 68% of the habitat, opening doors for more wild dog reintroductions over time. Scientists predict that the ongoing recovery of wild dogs in Gorongosa could build a larger connected population that moves across the wider Gorongosa-Marromeu range.
Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya
The Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya hosts significant populations of wild dogs. In the Masai Mara, the dogs are known for their fast-paced hunting behavior, often chasing their prey through the savannah. A few years ago, tourists spotted 9 African wild dogs in the northern Masai Mara in the conservancies around Enonkishu, Lemek and Ol Chorro. Here the dogs feel safe, surrounded by tall hills and thick vegetation where they can take cover and hunt.
The dogs are threatened in Kenya by canine distemper outbreaks, rabies and mange from community cats and dogs which have previously demolished the population, removing a vital link in the bushveld ecosystem. Habitat loss and increasing human-wildlife conflict continue to threaten the wild dogs in Africa, also an ongoing battle for conservationists. To this end, the Mara Predator Conservation Programme is monitoring the population and finding ways to save them. Reports of wild dogs killing sheep in local villages call for a predator-proof boma for these livestock and the collaring of some wild dogs to track their movements in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service.
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Walking trails in the magical South Luangwa National Park in Zambia offer impressive wildlife sightings where visitors seek out leopards, lions, and African wild dogs. Stunning evening game drives often reveal wild dogs calling and running in packs as they begin their sunset hunts in lush thickets and open grasslands. This makes sense as this famous park is the home to Zambia’s largest population of painted wolves, and some say that the Luangwa Valley should be called the Valley of the Wild Dogs!
The Zambian Carnivore Programme is dealing with snares, diseases and poisonings in Zambia – they found the oldest wild dog in the park caught in a snare, aged 12, from which at least 171 pups had been born, his grand-pups and great-grand-pups! This created 13 more packs of wild dogs that dispersed into the valley. Researchers say that the population is a healthy 350 adults and pups thanks to collaborative efforts by various conservation organizations.
Want to see wild dogs in South Luangwa Park browse our selection of wildlife safari packages here.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
One of Africa’s largest and most historical game reserves, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe is home to a significant population of wild dogs and the Painted Dog Conservation organization is focusing on protecting the wild dog population. Wild dogs in Hwange number some 160 individuals but they too are increasingly threatened by growing human populations outside the park – habitat fragmentation, human-wildlife conflict, domestic animal diseases, poisoning, snares and poaching continue to push the wild dog into danger.
The Cape hunting dog requires enormous hunting territories so are vulnerable to the bushmeat trade as they run at least 25 km every day. They tend to break out of the safety of the park and enter human areas where they are even more at risk. To this end, Painted Dog Conservation is working with the Zimbabwean conservation authorities to work in communities as part of their ‘Zero Tolerance to Wildlife Crimes’ programme.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
A must-visit safari destination is the unusual and impressive Okavango Delta in Botswana, a vast inland delta where one of the highest concentrations of African wild dogs exists. It’s another stronghold for the painted wolves which roam from here into the Moremi Game Reserve and Linyanti swamps. In fact, the Linyanti Concession is known as ‘wild dog country’ where several packs roam the region from the Kwando Reserve in the north, through the Selinda Reserve and Linyanti Concession to the Chobe Enclave Community Reserve and the Savuti Marsh area of Chobe National Park.
Different packs have unique territories and will fight if they come across each other on hunts. In Botswana, wild dogs find a den around June or July and may go back to old sites to give birth. Once the alpha female has had her pups, the pack must remain in the area for a few months to feed the pups and rest. Other wild dogs in Botswana have been spotted in the southern delta region in the Chitabe Sandibe concession bordering Moremi. To see wild dogs in Botswana’s Okavango Delta browse our selection of safari packages here.
Wild Dog Conservation Status and Preservation Programs in Africa
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are only around 6,600 wild dogs remaining in Africa. Conservationists have therefore implemented several strategies to save these carnivores including captive breeding programs, habitat restoration, and anti-poaching patrols. They are a vital link in the ecosystem and their loss will have a ripple effect on prey species and vegetation.
Habitat loss is a significant threat to African wild dogs due to all human activities such as agriculture, mining and expanding villages. Unfortunately, other threats face the dogs: human-wildlife conflict, poisons, snares and viruses from domestic dogs and cats such as rabies, canine distemper and mange.
Conservationists are thus working tirelessly to promote sustainable ecotourism initiatives in a bid to stem the tide of poverty in Africa. Some of the conservation efforts to save the wild dog include:
- Protected Areas: Many African national parks and wildlife reserves provide a safe haven for all wildlife, wild dogs and their habitats to ensure their long-term survival in the wild.
- Community-Based Conservation: Many conservation organizations are working with local communities to promote conservation efforts and reduce human-wildlife conflict. This involves educating people about the importance of wild dogs and how to coexist with them in a way that minimizes conflict and supports their conservation. It also includes the initiation of sustainable income-producing avenues to remove the focus on the bush meat trade.
- Disease Management: African wild dogs are highly susceptible to diseases like rabies and distemper, which can wipe out entire packs. To help prevent these diseases from spreading, conservation organizations are working to vaccinate wild dog populations and monitor their health.
- Research and Monitoring: Conservation organizations are also conducting research to better understand the biology and behavior of African wild dogs. This information is used to inform conservation strategies and monitor the health of wild dog populations over time.
- Anti-Poaching: Poachers often target wild dogs for their fur and body parts, to be used in traditional medicine, so anti-poaching patrols have been established in many areas to deter poachers and catch those who break the law. The dogs are also caught in snares set for other species. These patrols involve trained rangers who monitor the wilderness areas and respond to any poaching activity.
Relocating African Wild Dogs to Gorongosa National Park
The lack of wild dogs in Gorongosa National Park for 25 years had an enormous impact on the natural food web within the intricate ecosystems as wild dogs play a crucial predatory role in nature. Relocating African wild dogs to Gorongosa in 2018 for the very first time in Mozambique is now showing positive results.
The very first pack of 14 adult painted wolves arrived in Gorongosa in 2018, and the second pack in 2019. The two packs came from South African game reserves as part of a multi-organization commitment, driven by the South African Wild Dog Advisory Group (WAG) and the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Wild Dog Project. Intense preparation for the wild dogs’ new lives in a brand-new habitat involved vaccinations against rabies and canine distemper viruses, recording each dog’s unique ID in markings, age, area of origin and pack status – and each dog was collared and photographed.
Once released, a rigorous follow-up monitoring programme ensured all wild dogs were healthy, settling and reproducing. Wild Dog Relocation is one of the many goals of the Gorongosa Restoration Project which aims to conserve the wildlife and habitats of the park by empowering local communities to manage and own the reserve with a passion for nature. Social and economic stability means conservation of natural resources and vice versa.
Appearance and Behavior of Wild Dogs in Africa
Some of the most successful and efficient hunters in Africa, Cape hunting dogs have a success rate of up to 80%. The appearance and behavior of wild dogs in Africa are indescribable and have to be seen to be believed. African wild dogs are medium-sized canids that weigh between 25 and 35 kg and stand about 75 cm tall at the shoulder. They have long, slender legs that help them run at speeds of up to 65 km per hour, making them one of the fastest land animals in Africa. Their fur is marked with a unique pattern of brown, black, and white patches that vary from dog to dog making it easy to identify individuals within a pack.
They use their keen sense of smell and excellent eyesight to track down prey and they work together to chase it down, relying on their superior stamina to wear it out. They can run at speeds of 56 kph! Once the prey is caught, the dogs tear it apart and eat it quickly before other predators can steal it. They like the taste of antelopes, gazelles, warthogs, wildebeest calves, rats and birds.
Wild dogs play a vital role in the African ecosystem because when they kill an animal, they feed their entire pack and they leave pickings for vultures who need to survive. In addition, the hunt drives smaller antelopes into areas the dogs rarely visit. When they hunt, they take off the old, weak and sickly creatures from the food web keeping the natural balance and boosting prey species.
Packs of African wild dogs can range from 15 to 40 members, while huge packs of 100 were counted in days gone past. Each pack follows an innate social structure where no aggression is evident, the sickly and weak dogs are cared for, and every dog has its place without the need for bullying.
The packs are led by a dominant or alpha pair, typically the oldest and most experienced dogs in the group, who stay together for life. The alpha pair is responsible for leading the pack on hunts and making decisions that benefit the entire group. Wild dogs communicate with varying sounds from chirping and whining when greeting one another, to barks of fright, howls, and bell-like calls over long distances.
Chat to Voyage2Africa today to organize your safari into Africa’s top game reserves and national parks with a focus on viewing wild dogs in Africa and seeing conservation education at work. We will book your flights, transfers and luxury accommodation in unique bush camps and lodges where you can meet conservationists, wild dog experts and other safari enthusiasts like you.