Lycaon pictusAfrican wild dog

Geographic Range

At one time the distribution of Lycaon pictus was throughout the non-forested and non-desert areas of Africa. Their current distribution is more fragmented. African hunting dogs are now found in Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, parts of Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and the Transvaal. (Kingdon, 1997)


African hunting dogs are found in grasslands, savannahs and open woodlands. They are widely distributed across the African plains and are not found in jungle areas. Their habitat also includes semi-desert to mountainous areas south of the Sahara Desert in Africa. (Canadian Museum of Nature, 2003; Nowak, 1999; "Philadelphia Zoo Animal Facts - African Wild Dog", 2004)

Physical Description

The African hunting dogs' scientific name, Lycaon pictus, reflects the color of their pelage. Lycaon pictus literally means "painted or ornate wolf." The fur appears to be painted with brown, red, black, yellow and white areas. The pattern of colors is different on each animals coat, much like the stripes of zebras. The fur of L. pictus is short, with little or no underfur, and the blackish skin is sometimes visible where fur is sparse. Typically there is dark fur on the head and a white tip on the end of their bushy tail. They have large, rounded ears, a thin body, and long, muscular legs with four toes on each foot. The body length of Lycaon pictus is between 75 and 110 cm, the tail is between 30 and 40 cm long, and they range in weight from 18 to 36 kg. Males and females tend to be approximately the same size. (Nowak, 1999; Stuart and Stuart, 1995; "Philadelphia Zoo Animal Facts - African Wild Dog", 2004)

  • Range mass
    18 to 36 kg
    39.65 to 79.30 lb
  • Range length
    75 to 110 cm
    29.53 to 43.31 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    33.01 W


Each African hunting dog pack has a dominant breeding pair. This pair can be identified by their increased tendency to urine mark. They are normally the only pair of pack members to mate and they tend to remain monogamous for life. Their life expectancy is approximately ten years. Generally the dominant pair prevents subordinates from breeding. Breeding suppression between females may often result in aggressive interactions. Occasionally a subordinate female is allowed to mate and rear young. (Estes, 1991; Kingdon, 1997; Nowak, 1999; Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

Lycaon pictus reaches sexual maturity at approximately 12 to 18 months, though they usually do not mate until much later. The youngest recorded reproduction of a female was at 22 months old. Gestation is approximately ten weeks and pups are usually born between March and July. Litter sizes can vary considerably, from 2 to 20 pups. The smaller litter sizes have been recorded from animals in captivity. Breeding females gives birth to their litters in grass-lined burrows, usually an abandoned aardvark hole. The pups remain in the den with their mother for three to four weeks. Once the pups are brought out of the den they become the responsibility of the whole pack. Pups nurse from other females in the pack as well as from their mother. Weaning can occur as early as 5 weeks. The interval between litters is normally 12 to 14 months. (Estes, 1991; Kingdon, 1997; Nowak, 1999; Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

  • Breeding interval
    Twelve to fourteen months
  • Breeding season
    January to May
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 20
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    60 to 80 days
  • Average gestation period
    72.4 days
  • Range weaning age
    35 to 90 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    12 to 18 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    12 to 18 months
  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning



African hunting dogs are gregarious animals that form packs of up to 40 members. Before the recent population decline of African hunting dog packs of up to 100 animals had been recorded. An average pack size, currently, is 7 to 15 members. The pack has an alpha male and alpha female, which are the dominant pair. There are separate dominanace hierarchies for males and females. On average the pack has more males than females. Females have a much higher rate of emigration from their natal group than do males. Females usually leave the pack at 2 1/2 years or older to join other packs that have no adult females. Approximately half of young males will stay with their father's pack, the rest will leave to form a new pack together. Within the pack these animals have unique social concerns and structure. They cooperate in caring for the young, as well as wounded or sick pack members. When the dogs return from a kill they feed regurgitated food to the young, wounded, and sick, as well as any adult that was not able to go on the hunt. Another unique feature of African hunting dogs is the general lack of aggression between pack members. An exception to this is the occasional fight between a dominant female and a subordinate female over breeding rights.

These animals are cooperative hunters, they hunt in packs led by the alpha male. African hunting dogs are primarily diurnal, hunting in the morning and early evening. They will hunt at night if there is a bright moon. L. pictus uses sight, not smell to find prey. Once they locate prey they begin to chase it. The chase can last for several kilometers and reach speeds up to 55 km/hour. The dogs chase the prey until it tires, and at times they will disembowel the prey while it is still running. Once the prey tires they tear it to pieces. African hunting dogs tolerate scavengers at their kills, except for spotted hyenas. They drive off hyenas, sometimes injuring or killing them.

African hunting dogs are not territorial animals. This is reflected in the lack of territorial urine marking, which is observed in most canid species. Occasional urine marking is seen in the alpha male and female, but not for territorial purposes. (Canadian Museum of Nature, 2003; Estes, 1991; Kingdon, 1997; Nowak, 1999; Wildlife Africa CC, 2002; "Philadelphia Zoo Animal Facts - African Wild Dog", 2004)

  • Range territory size
    200 to 2000 km^2

Home Range

Because African hunting dogs are non-territorial and do not have exclusive ranges, their home ranges can vary in size from 200 to 2,000 square kilometers. (Estes, 1991; Kingdon, 1997; Nowak, 1999)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

African hunting dogs tend to prey on mammals that are about twice their weight. At times they will kill larger animals, and they will also take smaller prey individually. Some of the animals they prey on include small antelope such as impala (Aepyceros melampus) and bush duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia), and old, sick or injured larger animals such as wildebeest (genus Connochaetes) and zebra (genus Equus). On occasion some of the food they get from larger kills may be cached, though very often they never return to the cached food. For the most part Lycaon pictus does not eat plants or insects, except for small amounts of grass. Also African hunting dogs will never scavenge, no matter how fresh the kill is. (Estes, 1991; Kingdon, 1997; Nowak, 1999; Wildlife Africa CC, 2002)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • mammals

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Lycaon pictus occasionally kills livestock and important game animals. (Nowak, 1999)

Conservation Status

Lycaon pictus is listed as endangered by the IUCN and the United States Endangered Species Act. Habitat loss and diseases that are spread by domestic animals jeopardize the remaining African hunting dog populations. (Nowak, 1999)


Michael Mulheisen (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Crystal Allen (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Crystal Allen (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Cynthia Sims Parr (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own


active at dawn and dusk

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Zoological Society of Philadelphia. 2004. "Philadelphia Zoo Animal Facts - African Wild Dog" (On-line). Accessed 03/24/04 at

Canadian Museum of Nature, 2003. "African Wild Dog" (On-line). Natural History Notebooks. Accessed 03/24/04 at

Djuma Game Reserve, 1998. "Hunting Dog" (On-line). Djuma Game Reserve. Accessed 03/24/04 at

Estes, R. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: The University of California Press.

Kingdon, J. 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. San Diego: Academic Press.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World Sixth Edition. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Stuart, C., T. Stuart. 1995. Stuart's Field Guide to the Mammals of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik.

Wildlife Africa CC, 2002. "Wildlife Africa - Wild Dog Behavior" (On-line). WildlifeAfrica. Accessed 03/24/04 at