Wednesday, November 12, 2008

African Wild Dogs at the Wilds

As promised, it's time to start wrapping up my report on my time at the Wilds.

One of the more fascinating animal species that I encountered during my photo camp outing at the Wilds was the African Wild Dog. Their scientific name (Lycaon pictus) translates to "painted wolf", and is a direct reference to their spotted coat.

At first I thought they were hyenas and that this was just some other name for hyena. Their vocalizations even sounded like something I would expect from a hyena. Ooops! Hyenas, turns out, aren't dogs at all, not even in the same family. Just another notch in my nature education belt there. Hyenas are scavengers, picking up the scraps left behind (if there are any) by hunters such as the African Wild Dog (hereafter noted as "AWD").

An interesting characteristic of the AWD that we were informed of is that they take special care of their own. Apparently, most pack animals don't want to be burdened with sick or wounded pack members, so they leave their weakest links behind to fend for themselves (and most likely die). The AWD, though, will leave a guardian behind with these frail members during a hunt, and those who participated will come back afterward and feed regurgitated kill to all those left behind.

I also learned through some research online that they are not territorial animals, so the territorial urine marking that is common among most canine species is not present among AWDs. (Urine marking, instead, is used to demonstrate which are the dominant male and female of the pack.)

It is said that they tend to prey on animals about twice their size, although they may sometimes go for even larger prey. I suspect it depends on the size of the pack - seems a larger pack would have a better chance of taking down an animal such as this Common Eland, another species managed at the Wilds.

Being canines, they were easier to "relate" to than, say, a giraffe, given that their domesticated counterparts are "like family" to so many of us. The pack currently managed at the Wilds is a family unit, with mom, dad and either 4 or 6 pups. I appreciated the mostly quiet, seemingly easygoing nature that they seemed to exhibit when we able to observe them. I saw them play with each other, gnaw on old bones, and hide from the sun on that somewhat balmy day.

Unfortunately the AWD is an endangered species, due to habitat loss in its native Africa, and hunting by humans. There appear to be several conservation organizations working to reverse this trend, and the Wilds is certainly one of those organizations. And it's right here, in southeast Ohio.

1 comment:

RuthieJ said...

I've been watching the Planet Earth series on DVD and they had a story about the African Wild Dogs too. A beautiful animal for sure. Those are great pictures Heather.