Thursday, October 5, 2017

Dogs I have known

Michael - Thursday

On the prowl
 The African Wild Dog is one of the most interesting of Africa’s large predators. It has a number of quite unusual features – it's one of only two large carnivores that hunts during the day, individuals are asymmetrically and differently marked (leading to the alternative name painted hunting dog) although they all have the white tipped tail for communication, it has an unusual social structure, and the dogs are almost always together in packs.

Greeting ceremony
The pack has a complicated social structure—there is a lead male and a lead female who monopolize most of the breeding activity. Together they lead the pack, and the precedence between them varies. Furthermore, it's the younger females from the pack who go out on their own to start new packs and join new males (generally it’s the males who are turfed out in the animal kingdom). Presumably this minimizes inbreeding.

Time to get moving
I’ve watched them hunt quite often, and it’s quite different from the way lions behave. Far from trying to stalk up to the prey close enough to strike or at least spring an ambush, the dogs arrive in a rush and then attempt to isolate and run down the prey. It’s grueling for hunter and hunted, but usually if the pack can isolate a victim, they win in the end. Their success rate is much higher than for lions for example.

Pulling the meat apart is a communal activity too

This NationalGeographic piece on YouTube is long but shows it all in detail.

Although they look quite dog-like and even show some behaviors we associate with domestic dogs, they are only distant relatives—almost as distant as the jackal. They are gregarious and hunt in packs; their hunting method doesn’t lend itself to individual hunting, although I’ve seen a single dog take an impala by surprise at a waterhole. He ate his fill, and then walked around the kill in widening circles giving the excited hunting call. Pretty soon the rest of the pack materialized and helped themselves to the rest of the meat.

On another occasion we watched a pack relaxing at, and in, a waterhole after a successful hunt. Wild dogs love to swim and cool off that way, and the youngsters were playing and fighting over sticks in the dam. It was the middle of a hot day, and from time to time various thirsty creatures appeared, took one look, and headed back into the bush. Until a large and well-tusked warthog appeared on the scene at the side of the dam opposite the one where the dogs were enjoying themselves. He took in the scene and hesitated a few minutes. Then he decided he was going to have a drink anyway. Making his way firmly down to the water, he seemed to ignore all the dogs. For their part, the dogs watched with disbelief and a couple of the youngsters made a feint or two that he contemptuously saw off. Then the adults started to move around the dam well behind the dam, a pincer movement designed to trap the warthog between them and the water. The thirsty hog continued his drink.

Too late he discovered himself surrounded by the pack. He watched as the dogs tightened their noose.

Have I left this too late?
Then suddenly he took off towards them, choosing the dog in the weakest part of the circle. Faced with a large and impressive tusker moving towards him at speed with every sign of being intent on disemboweling someone, the dog gave way and he was through. He didn’t even deign to look back. The pack returned to its relaxation, and you could imagine them sheepishly commenting that they weren’t really hungry in any case!

Thanks to Aron Frankental for all these photos of the occasion.


  1. Just last week I was thinking of your description of jackals...and the inspiration for "A Carrion Death"...when the Greek newspapers reported on an English tourist hiking up north by the border with Bulgaria who'd been attacked and devoured by wolves. Thank you for giving me more to think about.

    1. Hopefully I didn't add to your nightmares! Try to focus on something cheerful. Like US politics.

  2. Respect!
    I think we do our domestic dogs a huge disservice when we fail to recognise what is deep in their DNA ( same ancestor as the grey wolf I think). We dress them up as Mickey Mouse, clip them into ridiculous shapes and breed them with a skeletal type incompatible with life, then wonder why they have the odd go at us!

    1. I'm with you, Caro! And you're right. Domestic dogs are very closely related to wolves and would probably revert to that sort of behaviours quite easily if the opportunity arose.

  3. I thank Aron Frankenthal, too. What a shot! I had caught only a glimpse before last February at Ingwelala, where, thanks to Stan's eagle-eye spotting and fancy driving, we got to see and chase a pack. They decided to stop and lounge about on the road and pose for some lovely pictures.

  4. They are impressive! And one has to be lucky to see them. They don't really have territories like lions for example; they come and go. So you were lucky indeed.

  5. I recently read an article postulating that when wild dogs need to make a decision they do so by sneezing - the more sneezes the more likely the decision would be made. One has to wonder hat happens when some have a cold. Read about it here: