African Hunting Dogs (Lycaon pictus)

African Hunting Dogs (Lycaon pictus) are long-legged predators with large, round ears facing upwards. The fur is speckled in black, yellow and brown colors, the tip of the tail is white. The largest African canid, and the most endangered after the rare Ethiopian wolf, the African hunting dog (also known as the wild or painted dog) lives in packs of five to 50 animals and is distinguished by its cryptic black, brown and cream coat.

Hunting dogs are highly effective pack hunters and were once widely distributed and common throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Hunted as vermin and highly susceptible to epidemics spread by domestic dogs, hunting dogs today have a very localized and scattered distribution pattern, with dwindlindling numbers barely making 1,409 grown individual and listed as endangered on the IUCN Red list.

The African hunting dog is locally extinct in roughly half the countries it once inhabited, Uganda included. Recolonization, though unlikely, is not impossible, since hunting dogs are great wanderers and small populations do still survive in parts of western Tanzania and Kenya.

African hunting dogs (Lycaon pictus) in Uganda

There were reported sightings of the African hunting dog in Uganda around 10 years ago, 5 years ago, and in 2009, all in and around Kidepo Valley National Park. None were detected in the carnivore survey made by WCS staff in 2009 and it is thought that this species is not resident in Uganda but ranges between Southern Sudan, Northern Kenya and Uganda.

It is known that in the 1940s and 1950s the species occurred in Queen Elizabeth National Park and the adjacent Virunga National Park but there was a policy at the time to kill this species because they were considered to kill prey in a ‘distressing manner’ that tourists would not like to observe. As a result they were extirpated from the Greater Virunga Landscape. With rising numbers of prey species in the landscape it would be worth undertaking a feasibility study for the reintroduction of this species to the landscape.

African hunting dog (Lycaon pictus)

Habitat and Ecology

African Hunting Dog is a generalist predator, occupying a range of habitats including short-grass plains, semi-desert, bushy savannas and upland forest. While early studies in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, led to a belief that African Wild Dogs were primarily an open plains species, more recent data indicate that they reach their highest densities in thicker bush (e.g., Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania; Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe; and northern Botswana).

Several relict populations occupy dense upland forest (e.g., Harenna Forest, Ethiopia; Malcolm and Sillero-Zubiri 2001). African Hunting Dogs have been recorded in desert (Lhotse 1946) (although most desert populations are now extirpated), but not in lowland forest. It appears that their current distribution is limited primarily by human activities and the availability of prey, rather than by the loss of a specific habitat type.

African Hunting Dogs Feeding

African hunting dogs mostly hunt medium-sized antelope. Whereas they weigh 20–30 kg, their prey average around 50 kg, and may be as large as 200 kg. In most areas their principal prey are Impala (Aepyceros melampus), Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), Thomson’s Gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii) and Common Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus).

They will give chase of larger species, such as Common Eland (Tragelaphus oryx) and African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer), but rarely kill such prey. Small antelope, such as Dik-dik (Madoqua spp.), Steenbok (Raphicerus campestris) and Duiker (tribe Cephalophini) are important in some areas, and warthogs (Phacochoerus spp.) are also taken in some populations. African Wild Dogs also take very small prey such as hares, lizards and even eggs, but these make a very small contribution to their diet.

Ref: Woodroffe, R. & Sillero-Zubiri, C. 2020. Lycaon pictus (amended version of 2012 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T12436A166502262.