The tale of an African wanderer

By Matthew Pomilia

In June of 2011, I travelled to the Okavango Delta of northern Botswana to conduct research on one of Africa’s most endangered (and least known) carnivores, the African wild dog.  As recently as 100 years ago, these colorful and immensely social creatures, evolutionarily unique among canids, roamed freely over most of the African continent.  Today, however, African wild dogs exist only in highly fragmented populations in southern and eastern Africa, with less than 5,000 individuals remaining in the wild.  Human persecution, habitat loss, and disease are believed to be primarily responsible for their decline.

African wild dog. By Matthew Pomilia.

Wading into the mosaic of grassland, Acacia woodland, and mophane scrub on the eastern edge of the Delta, I found myself in bona fide African wild dog country. Wild dogs are among the most visible and most charismatic of all wild creatures found in this part of southern Africa. One thing that sets wild dogs apart from other African carnivores, however, is their extreme wide-ranging movement behavior: on average, African wild dog home ranges (the area a pack uses during its ‘normal’ activities of feeding, mating, and pup-rearing) are about three times larger than those of hyenas and lions and ten times larger than those of leopards! While the reason(s) for such large home ranges is not entirely clear, the consequences, which include increased exposure to human persecution and disease, may pose significant threats to African wild dog conservation moving forward.

Wild dog puppies. By M. Pomilia.