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African Hunting Dog

Lycaon pictus (aka Cape Hunting Dog, Painted Dog)

African Hunting Dog


The African hunting dog stands about 2 feet at the shoulder, is about 4 feet long, and weighs 40-80 pounds. Like most other dogs, it has large, round ears. Unlike other dogs, however, it only has four toes on each foot (other dogs have five). The coat is mottled with black, yellow and white, with each individual dog having its own color pattern. Males and females are similar in both color and size.

Distribution and Habitat

Once found in a variety of habitats throughout Africa, the African hunting dog is now "confined" to open savannah and grassland areas south of the Sahara to South Africa.

Habits and Behaviors

African hunting dogs are very social animals, living in packs of 4 to 60 individuals, with the average being about a dozen. Packs generally consist of one dominant male/female pair, along with juveniles and pups. There are usually more males than females, because females almost always leave their natal packs to join packs without adult females. About half of the juvenile males will stay with their father's pack, while the rest leave to form new packs.

Interactions between individual pack members are almost always harmonious. Pack members cooperate in hunting, as well as in the rearing of pups. Although there are occasional disputes between dominant and subordinate pack members, there is very little aggression within packs. Unlike many other carnivores, African hunting dogs are not territorial, and disputes between neighboring packs have never been witnessed.


African hunting dogs hunt in packs, usually in the morning and early evening. Although they will occasionally go after birds, rodents, and other small animals, they typically go after mammals that may be as much as twice the weight of a single pack member. Prey is typically chased by the entire pack until it begins to tire, at which time individual dogs will begin biting at it until it is exhausted. Once the prey can no longer run the pack will descend upon it and begin tearing it apart, often while it is still alive.

Unlike many other pack hunters, there is no dominance when it comes to consuming the prey; each member of the hunting party gets its fair share of the kill, and some dogs will even regurgitate food to the young, wounded, sick, and other pack members that were unable to participate in the hunt.


Breeding generally takes place between January and May. A typical litter consists of 6 to 8 pups, which are born after a gestation period of 7 to 11 weeks. Pups are reared in a communal burrow, and are cared for by the pack in general. Any female, even subordinate ones, will nurse any pup, and there is sometimes competition amongst females for the care of individual pups. Pups are weaned at 10 to 12 weeks, and reach sexual maturity at 12 to 18 months. Hunting dogs may live up to 11 years in the wild.

Conservation Status

African hunting dogs are endangered, thanks primarily to habitat loss and diseases spread by domestic animals.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Mammalia
order Carnivora
suborder Caniformia
family Canidae
genus & species Lycaon pictus


Animal Diversity Web
National Geographic

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The Robinson Library >> Order Carnivora >> Family Canidae

This page was last updated on September 28, 2018.