Hunting and diet

The African Wild Dog hunts in packs. Like most members of the dog family, it is a cursorial hunter, meaning that it pursues its prey in a long, open chase. Nearly 80% of all hunts end in a kill. Members of a pack vocalize to help coordinate their movements. Its voice is characterized by an unusual chirping or squeaking sound, similar to a bird.

After a successful hunt, hunters regurgitate meat for those that remained at the den during the hunt, such as the dominant female and the pups. They will also feed other pack members, such as the sick, injured, the very old that cannot keep up, or those who stayed back to watch the pups

The African Wild Dog’s main prey varies among populations but always centers around medium-sized ungulates, such as the impala, Thomson’s Gazelle, and wildebeest. While the vast majority of its diet is made up of mammal prey, it sometimes hunts large birds, especially Ostriches. Other predators, mainly lions and hyenas, sometimes steal the prey that Wild Dogs catch.

Some packs will also include large animals in their prey, such as zebras and warthogs. The frequency and success rates of hunting zebra and warthogs varies widely among specific packs (whereas the rates for wildebeest and smaller ungulates do not). Hunting larger prey requires a closely coordinated attack, beginning with a rapid charge to stampede the herd. One African Wild Dog then grabs the victim’s tail, while another attacks the upper lip, and the remainder disembowel the animal while it is immobilised. This behaviour is also used on other large dangerous prey, such as the African Buffalo, giraffe calves, and large antelope – even the one-ton Giant Eland. The dogs often eat their prey while it is still alive. This disemboweling was a reason to regard the African Wild Dog as repulsive, but recent studies have shown that prey of the African Wild Dog die more quickly than prey of the lion and the leopard, which kill their prey by grabbing the throat and suffocating the animal.

Remarkably, this large-animal hunting tactic appears to be a learned behavior, passed on from generation to generation within specific hunting packs, rather than an instinctive behaviour found commonly within the species. Some studies have also shown that other information, such as the location of watering holes, may be passed on in a similar fashion.