They go by many names – African wild dogs, cape hunting dogs, African painted dogs; their Latin classification, Lycaon pictus, translates to “painted wolf.” They could also take on the moniker, the marathon hunters.
With the remaining total population estimated to be less than 7,000, the wild dog is listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). While it has never captured the same iconic status as other carnivores in Africa, the wild dog stands as one of the most remarkable animals and skilled hunters on the continent.
The African People & Wildlife Fund (APW) has increasingly made sightings of wild dogs in recent years throughout the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem. As the organization expands its programs across Northern Tanzania, more threatened packs and populations will fall under APW’s community-led conservation initiatives.
“Wild dogs are extremely social and intelligent and a joy to watch,” said Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, APW’s executive director. “APW has long appreciated these endangered animals and we now play a more direct role in conserving them.”
Besides being susceptible to disease and in competition with the more powerful lions, wild dogs also roam over vast territories, sometimes up to 900 square miles. Thus, growing human populations and habitat loss have also precipitated the decline of the species.
Like other hunters of the plains, wild dogs prey upon livestock. Such human-wildlife conflict can lead to dog packs being poisoned and their dens being burned by cattle herders, scenarios that have happened throughout several landscapes of Northern Tanzania.
“In the 1990s, wild dogs disappeared from the Serengeti National Park and surrounding landscape in northern Tanzania,” said Sarah Durant, who leads the Range Wide Conservation Project for Cheetah and African Wild Dog. “Fortunately, although there has not been any recovery inside, there has since been a resurgence of wild dog populations outside the Park.”
In recent years, the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), and others have led a massive effort to translocate wild dog packs from community areas to Serengeti National Park.
In some community areas with wild dogs, however, translocation simply will not be an option. Unless other human-wildlife conflict prevention and mitigation strategies are introduced, such packs will have a hard time surviving.
The Makame Wildlife Management Area, which has a substantial population of wild dogs, is a prime example. At some 3,335 square miles, or more than three times the size of the nearby Tarangire National Park, the WMA has ample territory but also includes human settlements, thus leading to more conflicts with wild dogs and other carnivores.
As APW continues to expand throughout the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem and Northern Tanzania, it will support villages in human-wildlife conflict prevention and other natural resource management initiatives, with one of the objectives being to reduce conflicts with wild dogs.
So, what of that nickname, the marathon hunters? Wild dogs not only hunt in packs and use clever techniques like flanking their prey, they also literally run their targeted animal to death, capable of speeds up to 35 miles per hour over long distances. Their hunting success rate is almost three times that of lions.
With hope and hard work, such extraordinary animals will keep running free and hunting in the Northern Tanzanian rangelands for many generations to come.