WILD DOGS ARE AWESOME HUNTERS
knew the animals were special when I saw our safari guide take out his
cellphone to photograph them. He had never seen this phenomenon himself.
I was in
a Jeep with two other people near Kruger National Park in South Africa
as we watched a small herd of impalas being chased by African wild dogs
trying to catch their day's meal.
hunting dog, another name for this distinctive carnivore, is an apt
description considering the mottled coat of black, white and orange.
They are the size of healthy Australian shepherd dogs and have white
tails, which presumably can serve as a battle flag for those in the
rear to follow during a chase.
arrived on the scene, a dozen or so of these daytime hunters, which
make a living chasing impalas and other antelopes until they drop, had
separated and surrounded one of the impalas, presumably the slowest
was high-kicking in defense and, although much larger than a single
dog, would soon fall prey to the pack behavior. African wild dogs behave
like a superorganism that is the paragon of social cooperation among
mammals. A dog pack has an organized hunt, although exactly how they
communicate among themselves is not clear.
wild dogs are a separate evolutionary line from gray wolves, coyotes
and domestic dogs. They have fewer teeth and toes and are different
enough to be placed in a separate genus. They are listed on the International
Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List as endangered. Once occurring
over much of sub-Saharan Africa, only 39 distinct subpopulations remain
according to a recent survey. They are believed to be extinct in almost
half of the African countries where they once lived.
most imperiled species, the major threats to the continued existence
of African wild dogs are of human origin, one of the biggest problems
being habitat degradation and fragmentation. These pack-hunting, long-distance
runners can outlast even antelopes in a chase. But the hunt may cover
many miles, thus the dogs need vast undisturbed land areas.
a major natural source of mortality among African wild dogs. But a more
insidious threat arises from the spotted hyena. Hyenas will follow a
dog pack that is chasing prey and then move in, robbing the dogs of
to one calculation, a loss of only 25 percent of the dogs' food to hyena
theft would more than triple their daily hunting time, which approaches
the point of being physiologically untenable. Even a small loss of the
normal daily food supply for a dog pack would be too costly for them
to recover from.
As we watched
the unfolding drama, most of the pack were standing around the Jeep
watching the attack squad deal with the corralled antelope. Interestingly,
wild animals in Africa, including the dogs, completely ignore safari
Jeeps and their occupants, as long as no one steps out of the vehicle.
No problem with that happening with this Jeep.
noticed the dog farthest back had turned and was looking in the opposite
direction. A second dog turned its head, and then a third. Within minutes
the remaining pack of two dozen dogs had turned and were facing away
from the predator-prey scene.
in the direction they were staring and saw a small phalanx of spotted
hyenas headed right toward them. The dogs grouped together, then suddenly,
as if a leader said "charge," away they went, white tails
trailing conspicuously behind.
can beat a dog one-on-one but not when an entire pack is working in
unison. They dispersed the hyenas, which decided they did not want to
take on this well-trained platoon. The dogs eventually returned to a
meal of fresh impala.
wild dogs can deal with hyenas. Unfortunately they are not likely to
be as successful in dealing with humans. Unless we step out of the Jeep.
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