Posts Tagged ‘Lycaon pictus’


Man originated in Africa. The whole lineage of apes from which we and all the other human species descended was in Africa, a sister lineage to the apes that gave us the chimpanzee and the bonobo.

But man’s first domestic animal was not of Africa at all. The large pack-hunting wolf roamed the great expanses of Eurasia, and it was only when certain Eurasian hunters began to incorporate wolves into their societies that we began the process of domestication.

For nearly two million years, human ancestors and the ancestors of the wild dog lived throughout Africa.  There was never an attempt to bring these dogs to heel, and there was never attempt to reach out to that species.

The question remains of why African wild dogs were never domesticated, and part of the answer lies in their nervous nature. I am reminded of Martin Clunes’s A Man and His Dogs.  Clunes ended his two part documentary with a visit to Tony Fitzjohn’s African wild dog project, and at one point, Clunes is asked to pick up a tranquilized African wild dog, while making certain that the jaws are positioned well away from his body.  These dogs react and react quickly.

These dogs live as quite persecuted mesopredators in an intact African ecosystem that includes lions and spotted hyenas.  Yes, this animal that kills large game with a greater success rate than any other African predator is totally the underdog in a land so dominated by the great maned cat and the spotted bone-crusher.

Their lives must be spent hunting down quarry and then bolting down meat as fast as they can before the big predators show up to steal it.

The current thinking is the first African wild dog ancestor to appear in Africa was Lycaon sekowei. This species lived in Africa from 1.9 to 1 million years ago, which is roughly the same time frame in which the first human ancestors began to consume meat readily.  It was very likely that a major source of meat consumed by these ancestors came from scavenging.  Homo habilis has been des cribed as a very serious scavenger, as was Homo erectus.

Both Homo habilis and erectus were contemporaries of Lycaon sekowei, and one really thinks about it, these early humans would have been very interested in the comings and goings of the great predators. Of all the predators to drive off kills, it is obvious that a pack of wild dogs would be easier to drive off than just about any other predators that were evident in Africa at the time.

So for at least 1.9 million years, African wild dogs evolved knowing that humans of any sort were bad news.  They may have inherited an instinct towards antipathy toward humans, and thus, there never was any chance for us to develop relationships such as those that have been observed with wolves and hunter-gatherer people.

I think this played a a much bigger role in reason why man never tried to domesticate African wild dogs. One should also keep in mind that wolves in Eurasia were also mesopredators in that ecosystem. Darcy Morey and Rujana Jeger point out that Pleistocene wolves functioned as mesopredators in which their numbers were likely limited by cave lions, archaic spotted  hyenas, and various forms of machariodont. They were probably under as much competition from these predators as the ancestral African wild dogs were under from the guild of super predators on their continent.

What was different, though, is the ancestral wolves never evolved in an enviroment which scavenging from various human species was a constant threat, so they could develop behaviors towards humans that were not always characterized by extreme caution and fear.

We were just novel enough for wolves to consider us something other than nasty scavengers, and thus, we could have the ability to develop a hunting symbiosis as is described in Mark Derr’s book and also Pierotti and Fogg’s.

It should also be noted that African wild dogs do not have flexible societies. In wolf societies, there are wolves that manage to reproduce without forming a pair bond, simply because when prey is abundant, it is possible for wolves other than the main breeding female to whelp and rear puppies. These females have no established mates, and they breed with male wolves that have left their natal packs and live on the edges of the territories of established packs. In the early years of the Yellowstone reintroduction, many packs let these females raise their pups that were sired by the wanderers, and one famous wolf (302M) wound up doing this most of his life, siring many, many puppies.  I think that what humans did in their initial relationships with wolves was to allow more wolves to reproduce in this fashion, which opens up the door for more selective breeding than one would get from wolves that are more pair-bonded.

In African wild dogs, one female has the pups. If another female has puppies, hers are confiscated by the main breeding female and usually starve to death.

The wolf had the right social flexibility and the right natural history for humans form relationships with them, which the African wild dog was lacking.






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The little AWD puppy robot is so cute!

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golden retriever wild dogs

Lilly the golden retriever has been enlisted to raise some African wild dog pups that were born at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

Despite their unfortunate name, African wild dogs are not feral dogs. They are a critically endangered pack-hunting canid that is closely related to domestic dogs, wolves, and jackals.

The African wild dog bitch that had these pups was too nervous to care for them properly, and the zoo staff decided to use a domestic bitch as a surrogate.

Lilly’s biological pup is definitely going to have some interesting adventures with her littermates. Lilly is a search-and-rescue dog, and her puppy is going to trained for that exact same task.

But for right now, she’s a playmate for some really exotic foster siblings.

golen retriever pups and awd pups








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From NBC:

A young boy fell into an African painted dog [African wild dog or painted wolf] exhibit at a Pittsburgh zoo and was mauled to death by the wild animals, zoo officials said.

The child, about 3 years old, was with his mother visiting the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium when he somehow fell from a 14-foot-high observation deck into the exhibit at about 11:45 a.m. He was immediately attacked by several dogs and died, zoo President and CEO Barbara Baker said.

The zoo quickly moved visitors into buildings as animal keepers tried to coax the dogs into an off-exhibit area. Many of the 11 dogs in the exhibit moved away immediately, and several others were scared away from the child by the zookeepers. A remaining dog would not leave the child, and a Pittsburgh police officer shot the animal.

It’s a pretty sad story.

African wild dogs don’t normally attack people, but these are zoo animals that are in very unnatural conditions.

A little kid falling into the exhibit could stimulate a predatory response, as it likely could from under-socialized packs of domestic dogs.




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African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus or Canis pictus)  are in a lot of trouble.

They once ranged over much of Sub-Saharan Africa, where they were part of an extensive guild of large Carnivorans that targeted the large herds of ungulates that once ranged over this part of the continent.

With European colonization, these animals were deemed pests. They were thought to be livestock killers of the worst sort, and it was also thought that they regularly preyed upon people– a claim for which there is very little evidence.

It was also assumed that these creatures were nothing more than feral domestic dogs.  The old name for this animal was Cape hunting dog, a name that sort of implies that these dogs were nothing more than feral hunting dogs that had run off from native settlements.

But even after colonization ended, Africa’s human development challenges mean that these animals can now only exist in fewer and fewer places.  The current populations of this species are also highly fragmented, which means the historic gene flow that once occurred over a broad swathe of territory no longer happens.

This gene flow occurs rather unusually in this species. African wild dog males almost never leave their natal packs.

However, bitches do leave within between the first and third year of life. There is a lot more competition for mates with bitches in this species than with dogs. With so much competition for mates, the younger females usually just leave to find their own mates in other packs. Like wolves, only a single female normally breeds, and if a second female breeds, it’s not unusual for the main breeding female to steal her pups and raise them in her den.  So if a bitch wants to raise her own litter, she’s got to leave.

Bitch dispersal prevents inbreeding in African wild dogs, but because they no longer can disperse over larger distances, the populations within an area are becoming more related over time.

Like many wild canids, African wild dogs exhibit inbreeding avoidance behavior.  Dogs from the same pack very rarely will mate with close kin from the same natal pack.

A recent study that was published PLoS ONE found that African wild dogs also won’t mate with aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, or grandparents from the same natal pack, even if they encounter each other several years later. In the South African study stample, 0nly a single breeding pair was confirmed to have been between two third order or closer relatives.

With this amount of inbreeding avoidance, the authors looked at computer models to see how long it would take such a population to become extinct solely upon the basis of its inbreeding avoidance behavior. Populations that avoided incestuous breedings between a parent and siblings and between siblings were estimated to become extinct in 63 years. Those that avoided  mating with second order relatives were estimated to become extinct within 37 years, and those that avoided third order relatives were estimated to go extinct within 19 years.

With African wild dog existing in such fragmented populations, their extreme inbreeding avoidance behavior may very well spell doom for them.

Inbreeding avoidance has been a very useful for wild dogs as they have evolved. With the exception of the island foxes and domestic dogs, inbreeding is not a frequent occurrence among members of Canidae, and it has contributed to greater genetic diversity in many wild dog populations than might otherwise be assumed.

But there is also a paradox to this inbreeding avoidance.

If animals have such a resistance to doing so, they are unlikely to do so should their numbers drop significantly and the only available mates be close relatives.

And this can kill them off far more rapidly than the effects of an inbreeding depression.

Further, we know that lots of wild Carnivons have survived extreme genetic bottlenecks.

Cheetahs are the textbook example. Their population experienced a massive crash about 10,000 years ago, losing over 90 percent of their genetic variability.  Cheetahs were able to survive this bottleneck and were thriving until about a 150 years ago.

Northern elephant seals are another example  of a Carnivoran surviving an extreme genetic bottleneck.  Whalers would stop by the seals’ breeding beaches to augment their cargo, and by the end of the nineteenth century, there may have been as few as 20 northern elephant seals left.  There are now 100,000 of them, and there is no evidence of any deleterious effects of inbreeding on the population, though they may be more susceptible to disease, pollution, and climate change issues.  Of course, northern elephant seals harem breed, and only a few males of the species wind up siring the pups at any given time– a kind of natural popular sire effect. It’s very likely that elephant seals within the same populations were always in some way related, and because the animals had evolved this type of breeding system, they may have evolved a certain amount of inbreeding tolerance that hasn’t been observed in any species of dog, which almost universally reproduce within a bonded pair.

Inbreeding avoidance behaviors do keep populations genetically diverse.

But it can be an Achilles’ heel.

If a population is so adverse to inbreeding, it won’t be able to continue on if the only possible mated pairs are relatives.

Inbreeding avoidance behavior can be a boon to the long-term survival of a species.

But it can also be a great hindrance.

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It is amazing how similar their behavior and mannerisms are to domestic dogs, even though they are more distantly related to domestic dogs than we are to chimpanzees

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The lone wild dog of Mombo in Botswana feeds some black-backed jackal puppies.

Wild dogs and jackals feed their pups through regurgitating what they’ve eaten.

Under normal conditions, these jackal pups would be doomed if a wild dog showed up at their den.  African wild dogs normally kill black-backed jackals and their pups. This one found herself without a pack of her own species, so she settled with joining up with a pack   of a distantly related species.

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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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When I first heard of African wild dogs, I thought they were hyenas.

I didn’t know that hyenas weren’t dogs and that there actually were wild dogs in Africa that I might mistake for hyenas.

In this footage, you can see that they are quite different animals.

And they don’t much like each other.


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