Why is the African wild dog endangered?
It’s believed that wild dogs once roamed across all of Africa. They are adept and adaptable hunters, able to find food in almost all of Africa’s habitats, from savannah to mountains to plains and forest.
However, they are now extinct from North Africa and have disappeared from 25 of the 39 African countries where they previously lived. Wild dogs have enormous home ranges. Research shows their numbers are highest in areas with incredibly low (or non-existent) human populations, plus a relatively low density of lions and hyenas.
They now only survive in a handful of places across sub-Saharan Africa. Their greatest stronghold is the wilderness area around northern Botswana and Zambia, where packs of up to 40 individuals can be seen.
It’s believed that the total wild dog population is between 3000 and 5000 individuals, that’s roughly 600 to 1000 packs. However, exact figures are not known because their population is severely fragmented. What is known is that the African wild dog is the second most endangered carnivore on the planet (after the Egyptian wolf). Unfortunately, figures are unable to show whether the wild dog population is increasing or decreasing. Almost everyone in Africa’s the numbers are declining and wild dogs are seen far less regularly than 20 years ago. The African wild dog is critically endangered due to a variety of factors, notably severe habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, snaring, conflict with humans and conflict with other predators.
Competition with other predators
All Africa’s predators are in competition with each other – leopards vs lions vs wild dogs vs hyenas vs cheetahs. When there is less food available, only the fittest will survive.Lion prides will kill wild dogs, especially the pups, in order to reduce competition for their own food source. While they may be Africa’s most successful hunter, wild dogs can’t compete with the strength and size of the big cats. Competition is a fact of life for all predators. For wild dogs, this carnivore competition must be understood in combination with other factors.
Lions and other predators drive wild dogs to the outer reaches of protected areas. Here they are more likely to come in conflict with human populations and livestock. As habitat for Africa’s wildlife declines, it’s those animals on the fringes that are most affected. Various researches have shown that African wild dogs spend most of their time in areas free of lions, locating their dens in areas with the lowest lion density. This is very understandable – lions kill the canines and dominate the food source – but require a habitat large enough for multiple carnivore species.
These social pack-living animals roam large territories and are continually in competition with other predators. They need space in order to thrive. Such space is becoming harder and harder to find. Wild dogs need large protected areas. Over 50 years ago in Africa, they roamed freely across over 80% of the continent. Wild dogs are mostly nomadic creatures and cover great distances to find their food. This way of living and hunting requires space, meaning wild dog populations can now only thrive in the larger wildernesses and parks. In Kenya and other parts of Africa habitat loss means less space and food for predators. Wild dogs are pushed to the margins and eventually are unable to sustain themselves.
Like many of Africa’s endangered species, habitat loss appears to be irreversible. Roads, railways like the one that has now cut Nairobi national park, Tsavo national park as well as human settlements slice through natural migratory routes. A rapid increase in population has meant more land is needed for both living and farming. There isn’t enough space for everything.
Habitat fragmentation is when a large continuous habitat is broken into smaller patches due to habitat loss. For example, building a road through a national park requires only a tiny percentage of the land.
But it fragments the habitat and prevents wildlife from moving freely. This is devastating for wild dogs as they need to move across large areas.
Fragmented habitats can be pieced back together through international cooperation because in Kenya as well as the rest of Africa the fragments are growing smaller and more numerous. This has a devastating impact on animals with a large natural range, among them African wild dogs and elephants.
Over the last century, most habitat loss has been caused by farming. Fertile areas are turned to farmland – some will say that is a necessity given Africa’s growing population. It’s bad news for wild dogs because it’s their territory, on the fringes, that becomes farmland. When wild dogs get too close to livestock they are shot or poisoned by farmers. This is a story that’s rumbled on with different animals for the last 200 years. Virtually any wild animal coming into contact with a farm is considered a threat to profits, so whether baboon or wild dog they usually take a dose of death.
Despite their beautiful coats, wild dogs are not usually in the sight of hunters or poachers. Hunters are usually setting snares to catch antelope, in many cases for bush meat but also for trophies. Wild dogs hunt antelope. And they get caught in the snares left by hunters. This is terrible for any animal but especially so for the canine hunters. Packs don’t leave anyone behind. They go searching for the missing individual and get themselves caught in snares as well. Hunters typically lay several snares in the same area. So an entire pack of wild dogs can be lost due to this.
Another byproduct of the human-carnivore conflict is disease. Again, by traveling such large distances, wild dogs have a greater chance of coming into contact with diseases such as rabies. Research shows that larger wild dog populations have a chance of recovering from outbreaks of disease, as they have greater habitat they can move to. However, small populations, where there is just a handful of packs, have been lost to epidemic disease. When only one or two packs remain in a certain place it doesn’t take much for them to be wiped out.
Why do we need to save & protect the African wild dog?
Although they can look cute, these are vicious animals. They can mix it with the big cats and hold their own on the savannah. In fact, wild dogs have the highest hunting success rate of all the big predators (85% successful kills).
It’s all down to their incredible teamwork, allowing them to kill big wildebeest and even zebra. They typically hunt antelopes that range from 15 to 150 kgs, with kudu, bushbuck, impala, and Thomson’s gazelle considered their favorite meals. Hunting depends on sight, usually in the early morning or early evening, but also when the plains are illuminated by a bright moon. Stopping habitat fragmentation and reconnecting fragmented habitats is the best way to increase the African wild dog population.
Quick facts about African wild dogs
- The pack hunts as a disciplined single unit. It’s a fearsome sight to witness, perhaps the greatest of all encounters you could have on an African safari. What makes them so special is that the prey knows they are coming. Big cats must creep up stealthily until they are in short striking range. However, antelope see wild dog packs from a kilometer away. They hear them from four kilometers away. The pack howls loudly during a pre-hunt ritual, individuals greeting each other in an elaborate ceremony of noise and tail wagging.
Silently they depart. The pack fans out, roaming the savannah for antelope. When a herd has been identified the leader will select a target, through a series of signs and calls. Ideally they target a young female and look to isolate it from the herd.
A subordinate male separates the target, and then it’s the pack leader who runs down the prey. The others spread out and position themselves to make an interception if the antelope changes direction. One or two dogs will lag behind so they can grab the prey if it circles around and dodges the leader.
- Africa’s nicest social animal. Lions are brutal. Sick lions are left behind when a pride moves on. When a kill is made the big male dines first, followed by the females, then the other males get the scraps. The dominant male lion will often kill and force out younger males in order to protect his own dominance.
But after wild dogs make a kill the pack’s juveniles are allowed to eat first. In comparison to chaotic and rowdy hyena, wild dogs eat as if at a dinner table. Each waits its turn and if there isn’t enough food for the entire pack they go out hunting again.
- Wild dogs regulate antelope numbers and increase biodiversity. Wild dogs have a varied diet and can hunt a rich diversity of antelope. Studies have shown that packs will hunt abundant species, therefore helping to preserve the biodiversity of a landscape.
Easy Things You Can Do to Save Endangered Species
- Slow down when driving. Many animals live in developed areas and this means they must navigate a landscape full of human hazards. One of the biggest obstacles to wildlife living in developed areas is roads. Roads divide habitat and present a constant hazard to any animal attempting to cross from one side to the other. So when you’re out and about, slow down and keep an eye out for wildlife.
- Learn about endangered wildlife species. Teach your friends and family about the wonderful wildlife, birds, fish and plants that live near you. The first step to protecting endangered species is learning about how interesting and important they are. Our natural world provides us with many indispensable services including clean air and water, food and medicinal sources, commercial, aesthetic and recreational benefits.
- Herbicides and pesticides may keep yards looking nice but they are in fact hazardous pollutants that affect wildlife at many levels. Many herbicides and pesticides take a long time to degrade and build up in the soils or throughout the food chain. Some groups of animals such as amphibians are particularly vulnerable to these chemical pollutants and suffer greatly as a result of the high levels of herbicides and pesticides in their habitat.
- Recycle and buy sustainable products. Buy recycled paper, sustainable products like bamboo to protect forest species. Never buy furniture made from wood from rainforests.
- Never purchase products made from threatened or endangered species. Overseas trips can be exciting and fun, and everyone wants a souvenir. But sometimes the souvenirs are made from species nearing extinction. Avoid supporting the market in illegal wildlife including: tortoise-shell, ivory, and coral. Also, be careful of products including skin from lions, leopards, cheaters, wild dogs and other endangered wildlife, elephant tusks or most live birds including parrots.
- Harassing wildlife is cruel and illegal. Shooting, trapping, or forcing a threatened or endangered animal into captivity is also illegal and can lead to their extinction. Don’t participate in this activity, and report it as soon as you see that happening in your vicinity.
- Protect wildlife habitat. Perhaps the greatest threat that faces many species is the widespread destruction of habitat. Conservationists keep on telling people that the best way to protect endangered species is to protect the special places where they live. Wildlife must have places to find food, shelter and raise their young. Illegal Logging, over-grazing and development all result in habitat destruction. Endangered species habitat should be protected and these impacts minimized. By protecting habitat, entire communities of animals and plants can be protected together. Parks, wildlife refuges, and other open space should be protected near your community. Open space also provides us with great places to visit and enjoy. Support wildlife habitat and open space protection in your community. When you are development space, consider your impact on wildlife habitat.
- Protect Native plants. Native plants provide food and shelter for native wildlife. Attracting native insects like bees and butterflies can help pollinate your plants. The spread of non-native species has greatly impacted native populations around the world. Invasive species compete with native species for resources and habitat. They can even prey on native species directly, forcing native species towards extinction.