Wild dogs have the most structured social order of the carnivores, living in packs led by a dominant male and female. All other members of the pack play a subordinate role to the alpha pair.
Wild dogs tend to shy away from areas dominated by lion and hyaena. There are an estimated 450 - 500 wild dogs in Kruger, so seeing them is a matter of luck. They can roam over long distances – up to 250 square kilometres – and may travel over 50km in a single day looking for food. They are most commonly seen in the Chobe, Moremi and some in Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Kgalagadi.
Wild dogs are masters of the collective approach to hunting. A hunt begins at sunrise or sunset when the dogs perform an elaborate greeting ceremony, sniffing and licking each other, wagging their tails and twittering aloud. They make a range of chattering sounds and have a distinctive long-distance greeting call – a sharp Hoo – that can be heard up to four kilometres away. During the hunt itself, however, they are silent. Occasionally, they hunt at full moon.
Wild dogs will fan through the bush looking for a herd of antelope. More often than not, this will be impala. Once they have located a herd, the most vulnerable member is singled out – usually a female and young antelope. A subordinate male wild dog usually starts the hunt by trying to isolate the animal from the rest of the herd. Once the target has been identified and separated, the alpha male takes over the lead of the hunt and the deadly endurance race begins.
Wild dogs are high-stamina hunters, capable of maintaining a 40km/h pace over five kilometres and increasing this to bursts of more than 60km/h for short distances. The pack splits up during the hunt, with some dogs trying to drive the fleeing prey in a circle towards the others.
If this fails, they press on with determination, taking it in relays to increase the pace, nipping and tearing at the fleeing victim each time it slows down. They literally run their quarry to exhaustion. Once the animal collapses, the dogs immediately begin feeding, even before their prey has died from loss of blood.
Unlike hyaena, which feast noisily and chaotically, wild dogs are restrained and orderly at the kill. The young feed first, followed by the subordinate males and females, with the alpha pair eating at any time. Each dog awaits its turn, and if there is not enough food to go round, the hunt begins again. Subordinate females support nursing wild dog females who remain at the den. They will stuff themselves with food and then go back to the den to regurgitate the remains for the mother and her young to eat.
The average litter size for the wild dog is between four and eight puppies. They suckle for the first three months of their lives before being taught to hunt.
Wild dogs hunt every day as they require more meat relative to their size than lions do. Eighty percent of their diet consists of impala, but they do attack bigger game as well, including wildebeest, kudu, waterbuck, reedbuck and sometimes zebra.
Wild dogs have often been regarded with horror by humans because of their seemingly cruel hunting techniques – death does not come quickly to the victim, which will first be run to exhaustion and then die from a loss of blood while being devoured.
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