From Wilderness Safaris:
Wild dogs have a distinct social hierarchy, relying on group cooperation to survive. They are also highly social animals used to operating in packs consisting of several individuals. This is what is so unusual about the lone wild dog at Mombo. She has been surviving on her own for over one year now in an area of very high lion density – not normally good odds for a wild dog to survive. But despite this she has been thriving, spending a lot of time close to Mombo Camp on Chief’s Island. In her search for company she has made friends with a family of five jackals and has one or two hyaenas which tolerate her as much as she them, with all three species often feeding on the same kill, normally made by the wild dog. The wild dog even took food back and regurgitated it for jackal pups when they were younger, and is even seen regurgitating for the adults as well.
On the morning of the 26th of June, we were following the lone wild dog down a game viewing track with three jackal in tow, when they suddenly broke off into the adjoining bush. Coming around the corner we saw a giraffe kill with about 16 hyaena and eight jackal feeding on it and the wild dog milling about in the background. The giraffe looked quite old, and the one back leg seemed broken and there were hoof scuff marks on the trees next to it – all indicating a titanic struggle with some sort of predator. We deduced the giraffe was killed by these hyaena. The jackals were feeding in a tight group near the head and growling ferociously at the large group of hyaenas feeding on the stomach area. Now and then a hyaena would chase the group of jackals off the carcass but they would soon return with just as much attitude.
At one point a very young hyaena was resting with his head on the neck of the giraffe and four jackals feeding within centimetres of him. Amazingly, later on in the morning, when most of the hyaenas had their fill, the wild dog snuck in and also started feeding on the giraffe carcass with two hyaenas and her jackal associates as well!
This was yet another incredible sighting at Mombo!
The behavior with the hyenas doesn’t seem to be all that remarkable. Hyenas and African wild dogs don’t normally like each other, but they will scavenge off each other.
The behavior with the black-backed jackals is much more interesting. For an African wild dog to regurgitate food at jackal pups and adult jackals means that she considers them her family group.
Black-backed jackals and African wild dogs are both true dogs, and if we were more intelligent in our classification of the species, they would be in the same genus. The two species cannot crossbreed, but they are related enough to each other for them to recognize some similarities.
Normally, African wild dogs kill black-backed jackals on sight, but with no other African wild dogs to comprise her extended family group, she has availed herself to the next best thing.
Of course, black-backed jackals are much more aggressive within their family groups than African wild dogs are, but because she is so much larger than they are, I don’t think she has much to fear from them.
This African wild dog is showing something that likely happened when wolves became very rare in the United States. When wolf packs were reduced to just a few isolated individuals, they joined up with coyotes.
Coyotes and wolves, unlike black-backed jackals and African wild dogs, can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, so there were populations of wolves that were derived from wolf and coyote hybrids, like the so-called red wolf and the proposed Eastern wolf species.Virtually all coyotes in the East have some wolf ancestry.
If African wild dogs and black-backed jackals were more closely related, it is possible that a similar exchange of genes between the two species would have happened. The influx of wolf genes into Western coyotes that colonized the East gave them certain adaptations that allowed them to operate as more effective predators of deer– most notably larger size and more powerful jaws.
The notion of two wild dog species joining up in a pack is something that is rejected in the some of established scholarship on wolves and coyotes. However, if two dogs species that are more distantly related than wolves and coyotes can form these sorts of relationships, one might be much more willing to accept wolves and coyotes can do the same.
The DNA doesn’t lie, but there is resistance to the notion that wolves and coyotes hybridize in the wild. The populations of wolves that have coyote genes are declared unique species. However, the uniqueness of these species is less and less likely when nuclear DNA is examined.