What is a painted wolf?

The “African Painted Wolf” (Lycaon Pictus), also known as the African Painted Dog, Cape Hunting Dog or African Wild Dog, is one of Africa’s most fascinating and endangered mammals.

The Painted Wolf is named from the scientific name of the African wild dog – Lycaon Pictus. Lycaon is derived from the Greek word Lykos for wolf and Pictus is latin for picture. Lycaon Pictus is part of the family Canidae but is only very distantly related to domestic dogs, dingos, foxes and wolves, the former being part of the sub family Caninae – African wild dogs are the only member of the sub family Simocyoninae. Hyenas are not related to any canines.

The African Wild Dog is a medium sized canid found only in Africa, especially in savannas (grasslands) and other lightly wooded areas. They are about the size and weight of an Alsatian dog, with large round ears, a deep muscular chest, a rather large head with a strong jaw and a unique pattern of colouring for each dog.

These inspirational and beautiful animals have enormous courage, energy, stamina, tenacity as well as a wonderful harmonious social structure.

Painted Wolves are often misunderstood. They are extremely effective and organised hunters, which has led people to consider them cruel killers. This has lead to significant persecution and local extinction in many parts of Africa. In addition, habitat destruction and disease (wild dogs are highly vulnerable to diseases affecting domestic dogs) not to mention competition from other predators such as lions, has certainly not helped.

They are incredible animals whose social organisation and interdependent behaviour are a source of inspiration to those who are familiar with or work with wild dogs. Painted Wolves are highly social animals with a well defined behaviour and a range of vocal expression and body language. They are also amongst the only predators where females and the young are given preference during feeding and where the sick or injured dogs are protected and encouraged by the other dogs in the pack. They are not territorial in the same sense that lions or hyenas are, and require a large range over which to hunt.

Painted Wolves are Africa’s second rarest predator after the Abyssinian Wolf.

Their numbers have been reduced in the wild to about 5000 to 6000 dogs, of which there are only viable (considered to be sustainable) populations in 4 countries – South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Botswana. They are a key species whose success in an area is an indication of the general health of that area. This makes them the most worthy of all Southern African carnivores to focus conservation efforts upon. They do not do at all well in compromised environments.

Status: Endangered