a photo discussion page by Don Roberson
A brief look at those wild dogs I've encountered to date in sub-Saharan Africa
Bat-eared Fox Otocyon megalotis

Bat-eared Fox is a fairly widespread and locally common jackal-like canine in east and south Africa. Pairs and small groups (i.e., a pair and offspring) live near burrows, some of which they dig themselves and others which they expropriate from other critters. They are apparently both nocturnal and diurnal; my own observations have generally been early in the morning or late in the afternoon. They prey primarily on termites, beetles, and invertebrates. "Subterranean insects are located by sound, with the ears pitched horizontally to get a fix before rapid excavation. The very dense fur helps protect against the bites of soldier termites;" Kingdon (1997). It has more teeth than any non-marsupial mammal that serve to demolish hard-shelled invertebrate prey, such as scorpions and beetles. There are two disparate populations one in east Africa and the other in south Africa possibly because they require open habitats, rather than woodlands. All my encounters have been in savannah or along the edges of dry rivercourses in very broken, open woodland.

pair 11 Aug 2002 Ndutu, Tanzania

male Nov 1981 West Tsavo NP, Kenya
Golden Jackal Canis aureus
adult 8 Aug 2002
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
The Golden (or Common) Jackal is the widespread jackal of north Africa, southern Europe, and east to India and southeast Asia. It reminds me, an American, of our coyotes. This one (right) was scavenging along the lakeshore in Ngorongoro Crater looking for the remains of dead or injured flamingos or waterfowl. The generally form mated pairs and defend a territory; cooperative hunting between pairs increases success. This is very much an open, dry country jackal but subsists well around villages, and territoriality may break down where food is abundant, as at village garbage dumps. We've seen it in those situations in Corbett NP, north India, for example. In Africa, it reaches its limit of southward distribution in northern Tanzania.
Black-backed Jackal Canis mesomelas

Kingdon (1997) argues this canine might better be called the "Acacia Jackal" because its range encompasses the open Acacia woodlands of east and southern Africa. However, especial in southern Africa, it occupies a broader variety of habitats, from wetter woodlands to arid Kalahari desert dune-woodland. The pairs studied by Mark & Delia Owens (1984) in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana were permanent residents in this arid environment that endures long stretches of hot, dry periods without rain. Except where there is overlap with the previous species, this is a vocal jackal, yowling at dusk each evening. Mated pairs form permanent pair-bonds and hunt cooperatively; they are often accompanied by the prior season's young (at least in east Africa). In some places, the local name is "Silver-backed Jackal." While the species does regularly scavenge from kills made by larger predators, it is an aggressive predator in its own right, taking on birds as large as bustards, small antelope, and large snakes. It can sometimes be seen out in the open during the day.

male July 1996 Kruger NP, South Africa

male 11 Aug 2002 Ndutu, Tanzania
Side-striped Jackal Canis adustus
pair 11 Aug 2002
Ndutu, Tanzania
Side-striped Jackal is mostly a secretive, nocturnal species and thus rarely seen. My only encounter is documented by this photo of a pair in dry savanna at the edge of woodland, just after dawn. Note the pale eyes and shorter ears than the previous species. It hunts small mammals and birds, but also takes fruit. Although my observation was in dry country, it generally prefers wetter areas than the other jackals and ranges across central Africa, but is missing from the arid portions of southern Africa. It replaces Golden Jackal at higher elevations or in swampy habitat. Like other jackals, pairs defend territories but individuals often hunt solitarily. It apparently occupies the "tropical fox" niche in central Africa (Kingdon 1997).
African Wild Dog Lycaon pictus
adult July 1996
Kruger NP, South Africa
The Wild Dog is a pack hunter of the open plains and the African savanna woodlands. Alas, it has been in serious decline for years. Humans aggressively exterminate it in non-protected areas, and even in parks it is very susceptible to canine distemper picked up from feral, non-native dogs. My only encounter was with a small pack lying in tall grass in the shade of a wooded glen in eastern South Africa. We were among a dozen or more cars of visitors trying to get a view: this was about it. They are beautiful animals mottled with black, gold, buff, and white.

Antelope form the bulk of their diet on the open plains where packs run down and overpower prey. Pups and adults that remain at a den are fed later by regurgitation. Mark & Delia Owens (1984) report some fascinating behavior during their irregular encounters in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana. A wild pack would tolerate an upright human moving slowly in their midst, but if the person crouched down, members of the pack would immediately begin to stalk him.

"The social arrangements of African wild dogs are extraordinary because they are the exact opposite of those in most other social mammals, such as as coatis, baboons, lions and elephants. With the wild dog pack all the males are related to each other, and all of the females to each other but not to the males. Females migrate into the pack, whereas males stay with their natal pack." Males outnumber females about 2:1 in each pack and help raise the young. It is the females that fight to breed. Indeed, only the dominant male and female breed in most situations; other females that produce litters are driven from the pack and are unlikely to survive (Malcolm 1985).

PHOTOS: All photos on this page are © 2005 Don Roberson; all rights reserved.

Literature cited:

Kingdon, J. 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press, London.

Malcolm, J. 1985. "African Wild Dogs" in The Encyclopedia of Mammals (D. W. Macdonald, ed.). Facts on File Press, New York.

Owens, M., and D. Owens. 1984. Cry of the Kalahari. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.




Page created 26-27 Feb 2005