So why do the rangers go crazy when they see it? It is not as attractive as the leopard. Not as majestic as the lion. Not as fast as the cheetah and not as strong as the hyena. In fact most people find this animal quite ugly. With a skin that looks like a building contractor spilled paint on it, ears that seem way too big for the head and a near anorexic build, the wild dog is definitely not one of the animals that look spectacular. But as a matter of fact they are.
The scientific name Lycaon pictus means painted wolf.
They are one of the most successful hunters in the African bush, but are still an endangered species. Because of their looks, farmers believed they were a mixed breed of domestic dogs that became wild and hunted their livestock. Thus driving farmers to shoot them. It was only later that humans discovered this was a species on its own and quite a spectacular one at that. There is believed to be between 2000 and 5000 of these dogs left in total around the world in scattered patches throughout sub-Sahara Africa.
Those long legs and slim build makes them extremely energy efficient and enables them to run for miles and miles without stopping. They run their prey to exhaustion and then swiftly kill them once the prey can not run away anymore. This way of hunting is extremely effective and results in about 80% of attempted hunts, successful. Eating large chunks helps them to take food back to regurgitate for the pups and adults left back at the den.
The big ears are made to hear pack calls over long distances as they can travel as far as 5km (3miles) traveling at about 50-56km/h in a hunt. They make high pitched bird-like sounds when hunting, moaning sounds when in danger and barking sounds when around the den. The ears are also believed to help with heat loss in the warm climates.
The “painted” skin helps the dogs to blend in with the environment. Not necessarily to remain hidden from prey, as they can easily catch up with the prey over a long distance, but to remain hidden from other predators like lion and leopard.
They live in family groups with an alpha male and alpha female to lead hunts and mate. The other members of the pack are pups and mostly other adult subordinate males. The pack bonds are very strong as dogs will urinate on each other in order to “mark” one another as family members. They also display an almost human-like greeting behavior when the hunting dogs return to the den after a hunt.
There are many, many more amazing facts about these animals, way too much to elaborate now.
So to answer the question in short. Why do rangers go crazy when they see wild dogs? Because most people never get the opportunity to see them. Even rangers can remember exactly how many times they have seen them. And is it a very rare species of one of the most fantastic and unique animals to be found in this ever exciting place called Africa.
Jacques Beukes – Kapama River Lodge