African painted dogs are among the most successful hunters because they hunt in large numbers and have great endurance. They also use an effective strategy. Once they detect prey, usually by sight or sound, they set off in pursuit at a fast run that they can keep up for miles. When the prey tires, one dog grabs the victim’s tail and another holds onto its upper lip. The rest of the pack finishes off the immobilized animal. African painted dogs capture their prey approximately 60% of the time, one of the highest success rates of any predator species. The entire pack shares in a kill. Since they hunt cooperatively, wild dogs can take down prey large enough feed all of the group's members.
Status in the Wild
The short fur of African painted dogs is a patchwork of dark brown, yellow, black, and white. Although the color pattern is different for each individual, they all have darker colors on their muzzle and a white tip on the end of their tail. Their ears are large and rounded and they have a strong musky odor. Unlike other canids, all of their teeth are sharp and shearing rather than a combination of sharp and flattened teeth. Their premolars are enlarged, allowing them to crush and consume large quantities of bone. Their slender bodies have a deep chest and long legs with front feet that have 4 toes but no dewclaw--they are the only canids without them.
African painted dogs are Africa's most endangered predator. A century ago, packs numbering a hundred or more animals could be seen roaming the Serengeti plains. Today, pack size averages about 10, and the total population on the Serengeti is probably less than 600 dogs. Population densities in well-studied areas suggest that 3,000 to 5,500 free-ranging painted dogs remain in Africa.
The Serengeti subspecies is the most endangered subgroup. They are susceptible to epidemic disease because of unvaccinated domestic dogs. Their habitat is shrinking due to human activity. They are persecuted by farmers, who fear livestock predation, using snares and poison. Captive wild dogs are managed through a Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Habitat fragmentation, persecution, and loss of prey were the major causes of painted dogs' historic decline, and these factors still represent the principal threats today. Contact with human activity is directly responsible for over 60% of recorded adult mortality through road casualties, poisoning, and snaring.