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Lycaon Pictus (which is Latin for Painted Wolf) is a genus with hyena-shaped ears and a broad skull. The African Wild Dog belongs to this genus (and is the only specie in it), and belongs to the family Canidae, making them distant relatives with Canis familiaris (domestic dog).
These dogs stand at about 30 inches in height to the shoulder, and at about 40 to 80 pounds in weight. At first sight, you might mistake them for hyenas, but they are really dogs. Like the hyena, they also have a broad head, big ears and are a carnivore that works in packs. However, there are some differences between them: hyenas have multi-colored camouflaged body (with earthly colors) while an African Wild Dog has a more solid color of either black, gold, white or brown with unique patterns for each dog. Hyenas also have shorter tails than the African Wild Dog, whose tails are usually coated white.
They are excellent “coursing” type hunters in the African fields and plains. They live in packs, made up of about 10 adults, and they coordinate with each other for hunting strategy using a “chittering” verbal form of communication. They can range over 1000 square miles when hunting prey and can move at high speed for extended periods when necessary. In one study done by behaviorists Jane Goodall and Hugo Van Lawick, the pack averaged 30 miles per hour speed for about 3 miles.
Living in packs, the lower-status members make gestures of respect towards those of higher status, such as licking their faces or doing something favorable to them, just as domestic dogs always want to appease us by licking our hands. And just as our domestic dogs lay on their back, waiting to be tickled or scratched, so do the wild dogs – they also perform similar gestures to gain attention and pacification. They also groom each other – the higher-status female or pack leader lies down and lets the other members groom her.
Just as domestic dogs welcome their master when he or she comes home, so does the African Wild Dog. They do some paw shaking, leaps, mouth-licking and tail-wagging. This is all part of the “submission” rituals toward the pack leader.
They work together in hunting sessions, which frequently takes them 10 miles or more from the starting point. Most of their known prey are antelopes, gazelles, kudu and puku, wildebeest calves, wildebeest adults and even zebras. Because their killing method (disembowelment) has always been considered disgusting and inhumane by humans, they have been hunted to the point of near extinction, and are considered an endangered species. Several groups are being bred in captivity, with the eventual goal of establishing sufficient numbers so they may once again flourish in the wild.