The African painted dog, (Lycaon pictus), also known as the Cape hunting dog or the African wild dog, is a rare and unique canid, known for its highly cooperative social structure. Within a pack, the dominant male and female are the sole breeders, yet all of the pack members will help to feed and care for the young.
In addition, painted dogs hunt cooperatively, chasing down and subduing prey such as antelope or even wildebeest. Hunting in groups allows these medium-sized carnivores to take down prey that exceeds the body weight of each individual dog, and often prey will be shared with the entire pack – if it is not first stolen by lions or hyenas. Adults will chew, partially digest, and then regurgitate meat for the alpha female’s pups.
The African painted dog has been extirpated in roughly 2/3 of the countries in which it used to occur and is currently classified as Endangered by the IUCN. As its populations have diminished, they have also become increasingly isolated. This is a pattern suffered by many declining species, creating an even higher risk of declines due to infectious disease outbreaks, genetic bottlenecks, and poaching along the ever shrinking margins of remaining habitats. These factors directly reflect the most critical threats to African painted dogs: persecution by humans, increase in disease exposure from domestic animals, and habitat destruction and fragmentation.
The Mpala Research Centre, located in the Laikipia region of north-central Kenya, includes nearly 50,000 acres of land dedicated to fostering scientific research and developing methods to allow wildlife and local people to co-exist without detriment to the livelihood of either humans or animals.
Staff and researchers at Mpala have put significant effort into fostering positive relations and cooperation with nearby settlements, an endeavor which helped to facilitate the African painted dog’s recolonization of the Laikipia plateau. The Mpala Research Centre is now home to one of Kenya’s few breeding populations of the painted dog, and it is hoped that this population will continue to thrive and expand. In addition to being a boon to conservation efforts, the presence of painted dogs at Mpala provides researchers with the opportunity to gain important insights into both the behaviors and the ecological role played by this very unique yet rare species.
The following photos feature a pack of painted dogs currently in residence at Mpala. The occasion was a sunny May morning, when the dogs were discovered polishing off an impala carcass. Some individuals appeared to be focused on enjoying a ‘rest and digest’ session, while others were in the mood for some rambunctious play.
Photos by Anne-Marie Hodge
Resources for more information about African painted dogs:
IUNC Red List Report (McNutt et al. 2008)
Work by Dr. Rosie Woodroffe, who has conducted extensive work on the Mpala painted dogs.
Anne-Marie Hodge, EGN’s Species Science Advisor, is currently a PhD student at the University of Wyoming in Ecology, and holds a Bachelor of Science in Zoology from Auburn University and a Master of Science in Biology from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. While at Auburn, she established and served as president of Alabama’s first chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology. Anne-Marie’s research interests include community ecology, predator-prey dynamics, and conservation, with a focus on tropical carnivores. She has research experience in Mexico, Belize, Ecuador, and Kenya.