At first glance, these African wild dogs resemble hyenas and their hunting behavior is quite similar as well. Therefore, the wild dog, also known as the hyena dog, is threatened with extinction, unlike the hyena.
Although they are not direct relatives, the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) and hyenas are very similar in appearance. In addition to the stature and bushy tail, wild dogs have only four toes instead of the usual five toes a dog. This is why they are also known as “hyena dogs”.
The fur color of African Wild Dogs also resembles hyenas. The special thing about black grounded fur is that each dog has individual spots of brown, red, yellow and white, as can also be seen in the two people in our photo. This coat color gave wild dogs their name – and their scientific name means something like “colored wolf.”
In the area of their distribution, the steppes of Africa, colorful wild dogs are well camouflaged. In addition, they can turn their large, round ears in all directions and thus perceive noise from a distance of over three kilometers. This helps dogs communicate inside their enclosures when hunting. Hyena dogs hunt together with great skill and thus are among the most efficient predators in Africa. Their prey includes deer, wildebeest, and boars.
But although wild dogs are adapted to their habitat and are good hunters, they are considered extremely vulnerable: originally, the African wild dog was found in almost all savannah regions of Africa. Today, with only about 6,000 individuals remaining, it is one of the rarest animals in Africa. Wild dogs are only sporadically found in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa as well as in Tanzania and Kenya. Young wild dogs, which are just reaching maturity for the first time, are especially vulnerable. Because they are looking for certain species that are able to mate and territory to establish their own herd. In doing so, they travel hundreds of kilometers – time and time again through the areas that people inhabit and build.
Researchers working with David Hoffmann of the University of Zurich in five countries in South Africa examined their vulnerability when migrating across savannahs. They equipped the animals with GPS collars and used movement data to analyze which habitats wild dogs prefer or avoid. They also examined whether dogs used game lanes that connect protected areas in the area.
It turns out that many wild dogs have already used trails within the Kavango Zambezi Conservation Area. However, not every wild dog route passes through protected areas, and settlements, roads, and agriculture hinder some migratory animals. So in the future, the team wants to put additional routes under protection for the endangered hyena.