Wild Dogs

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Wild dogs are one of the most special carnivores to see at Mpala. But unfortunately, like in many other patchy African mammals, human-wildlife conflict has caused their populations to starkly plummet and fragment. The greatest threats to wild dogs include the development of agricultural land and persecution by humans through poisoning and shooting. Since the 1990s, conservation efforts helped wild dog numbers steadily increase and just over a decade ago, there were more than two dozen packs of wild dogs totaling over 300 individuals in Laikipia. Sadly, this all changed in 2017 when the dogs suffered a devastating blow from canine distemper, nearly leading to their local extinction. Canine distemper is a virus transmitted from domestic dogs, and the increased contact between wild dogs and adjacent cattle ranches has likely contributed to its spread. For a year or so, the outlook of wild dogs bouncing back in Laikipia looked improbable, but in 2018 a single pack was spotted traveling between conservancies. At the time this was huge news, and the pack has since been carefully monitored. The dogs in this post are from that very pack, called the ‘Phoenix Pack.’ They were making their way up the escarpment northward, a small trek in their enormous home range (wild dogs are known to have home ranges of 30 to almost 500 square kilometers!).

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Globally, wild dogs have disappeared from over 90% of their geographical range. These dramatic population declines are worrisome because of low genetic diversity in wild dog populations, a problem not unknown to other mammalian fauna (e.g. the cheetah). If populations continue decrease and fragment, the lack of gene flow will prevent the persistence of a viable population.

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Photographed after slight disturbance [2]

One of the most courageous dogs of the pack, this adult wild dog made its way directly towards us, lingering several times in between trots. As always, it’s easy to forget how large these “smaller” mammals are in the land of the giants. That is, until they come extremely close!

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While the juvenile wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) played with each other and spun around in circles under the scorching sun, the adults rested in the shade. After about 20 minutes this wild dog lazily stood up and gave us a powerful stare. On the right side of its scalp there was a fresh stream of blood. It’s unlikely this sort of injury came about from playing within the pack… it could have been the result of a backward kick from an antelope or just a bad tumble while pursuing prey.

Photographed in situ [1] unless otherwise stated

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Wild dog older pup; photographed after pursuit [3]
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Spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) vocalizing and investigating the wild dog commotion

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