African Wild Dogs and how you can help to protect them

1 October 2018

African Wild Dogs (also known as Painted Dogs or Painted Wolves) are the second most endangered carnivore in Africa. In South Africa, there are fewer than 550 wild animals, and only 39 distinct sub-populations left in Africa.

Due to their endangered status, African Wild Dogs are the main focal species on our Endangered Species Conservation Programme. The project's intensive monitoring of African Wild Dogs is done 365 days a year. The ultimate goal is to reintroduce painted dogs successfully back into their historical ranges and ensure the protection of the population into the future.









African Wild Dog Facts

  • Its scientific name means Painted Wolf. Common names include the African Wild Dog and African Hunting Dog.

  • Packs of wild dog have an alpha male and alpha female. The alpha pair is generally the only pair that breeds, but the entire pack shares responsibility for protecting the pups, with both males and females babysitting the young.

  • The alpha female can give birth to litters of 15 puppies or more.

  • Wild Dogs have incredible endurance – being able to run at roughly 48km/h for 5km

  • Wild dog prey can weigh anywhere from 2x to 10x more than their own body weight.

  • African Wild Dogs primarily prey on large mammals such as warthogs and numerous antelope species (especially nyala), supplementing their diet with rodents, lizards, birds and insects.

  • Unlike other dogs, African wild dogs have four toes instead of five.

Amazing hunters

Wild dogs are the most efficient hunters in Africa. They are successful 80% of the time in bringing down antelope, pig, and massive prey such as zebra and wildebeest, that may easily be 10 times the size of an individual dog. With larger animals, usually the plan is just to gain whatever the animal had in its possesion, or drive it from their territory.

The wild dog pack is extremely tight-knit and works as a big, well-oiled machine because of this harmony. They build up each other's confidence with group "rallies" where they trot about shoulder to shoulder, tails held high, jostling and mouthing each other, definitely similar to wolves, but also to football players before a big game.

The most unfortunate habit wild dogs have is their hunting style, or rather their killing style. As opposed to using a choke hold or a kill bite like most predators,  African wild dogs will, as a group, grab a piece of their victim and basically tear it apart.

Complex social structure

On the hot plains and grasslands of Africa, wild dogs live in tight-knit packs of 20 to 40 animals, the members of which remain so for their entire lives, 

Food is distributed to the youngest pack members and sometimes the Alpha pair are actually the last dogs to eat. The pack will settle down for several weeks while the pups are growing, going out to hunt twice a day and bringing food back in thier bellies which they will regurgitate for the mother and pups to eat.

Girl power

Female African wild dogs are often larger than males, and many male/female roles in the pack structure are reversed.

Although the pack most often hunts together, when the Alpha female has a young litter, it is usually a small group of adult males that will remain back at the den with her, tending to the many pups, while a hunting party of swift and powerful females set out first thing in the morning, and then again in late afternoon.

In one of the most unique role reversals, small groups of young females wean away from the pack to form a new pack of their own, or join a pack whose females have also left, while the majority of young males stay with the pack their entire lives, dutifully tending to the needs of another male's puppies. 

Odd vocalisations

The African wild dog is an incredibly vocal animal emitting squeaks, chirps and hoots reminiscent of many common birds, and make very few of the sounds created by more familiar dog species.  They really do not bark at all, and instead of howling in the night, a separated wild dog looking for the pack makes a "hoo" noise which sounds almost exactly like an owl!

While hunting and feeding, the pack chirps and squeals like a flock of small birds, or a noisy pod of dolphins! They also make many cackling noises similiar to hyenas.



Wild dogs need massive geographical areas to sustain their populations and genetic diversity. They are constantly on the move, rarely staying in one location for more than a day or two, and this need for roaming space has contributed to their critical status in the wild.

There are no preserves large enough to comfortably contain a pack of African wild dogs, and when they stray out onto farmlands and roadways, they fall prey to car bumpers and farmers bullets.

The causes of African wild dogs’ decline are reasonably well understood and include extreme sensitivity to habitat fragmentation as a consequence of wide-ranging behaviour, conflict with livestock and game farmers, accidental killings by snares and road accidents, and infectious disease. All of these causes are associated with human encroachment on African wild dog habitat, and as such, have not ceased and are unlikely to be reversible across the majority of the species’ historical range. (IUCN)



Our Endangered Wildlife Conservation Project conducts intensive endangered species monitoring work in Zululand, South Africa, and volunteers are an integral part of the exciting conservation work that is being done across the region.

You will get the chance to monitor a range of endangered and threatened species focusing on the African wild dog, but also including rhino, cheetah, lion, leopard, elephant and vulture.

Find out more:

Back to articles

Stay Informed

Sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest news.