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One of the archaic names for the African wild dog or “painted wolf” (as we now call it) is “Hyaena dog.” In German, it is still called  the “Hyänenhund.”

So John Gerarrd Keulemans made his African wild dog look like a cross between a Lycaon pictus and a striped hyena.

Hyenas aren’t dogs, and African wild dogs aren’t hyenas. Hyenas are Feliform Carnivorans, which means they are more closely related to cats than any species of dog.

 

 

 

 

 

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I prefer to call these wild canids “painted wolves,” rather than calling them African wild dogs or Cape hunting dogs. These names come from a misidentification that these are nothing more than a feral domestic dog that is endemic to much of Africa. They are not as closely related to dogs or wolves as their pack behavior might suggest. They are closely related to the genus Canis, but they are in their own genus, Lycaon. I’ve even heard of this species referred to as a “hyena dog,” because they superficially resemble hyenas. They are canids, not hyenas, and they really have a tough time living in territory that is also filled with lions, hyenas, or both.

These animals have really tough lives. The niche that wolves filled in Eurasia and North America is already filled on the African savanna, so a large, pack-hunting dog really does have a tough time making a living. These dogs have very short life expectancy, generally less than 5 years in the wild. Because they have such short lives, they have to produce as many offspring as possible to carry on the next generation. These dogs have massive litters, as big as any seen in domestic dogs. (Arctic foxes and the painted wolf produce the largest litters of any wild dogs. Both have very tough lives in the wild, and they have to have large litters to carry on the next generation.)

The term “painted wolf” comes from the scientific name for this species, which is Lycaon pictus. “Lycaon” means wolf in Greek, and “pictus ” is the Latin word for painted. (You may know another word derived from the Greek word for wolf. The “medical term” for werewolfism is “lycanthropy,” derived from combining the words for wolf and man in Greek.)

Europeans considered the dogs vermin, not just because they did occasionally kill livestock, but because the animals were mistaken for a feral race of domestic dog, early conservationists often killed them in the name of wildlife preservation.  This misconception still exists in some quarters, so I highly recommend that we stop calling them African wild dogs or Cape hunting dogs. This is a unique African pack-hunting canid.

It could very easily become extinct in our lifetimes. Because it is so intensely social, disease is very easily transmitted among the remaining populations of this species, and because African conservation lands are becoming more and more isolated, these dogs have to share their habitat with high densities of spotted hyenas and lions, animals that compete with them for prey and often kill them on sight.

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