Painted hunting dog population threats

Sabi Sand | October 2019

The current population status of the painted hunting dog throughout Africa is Endangered. It’s estimated that the population south of the Sahara sits between 5 000 and 6 000 individuals and that every year this number is decreasing. In the Greater Kruger National Park ecosystem, the population of these animals are estimated between 500 and 800 individuals. As the population is dwindling significantly in some parts of Africa and extinct in others, conservationists are hard at work monitoring the metapopulation in southern Africa and are carefully reintroducing them into areas where they once occurred.

With interspecific competition existing, larger predatory species such as spotted hyena, leopard and lion are always a threat to these medium sized carnivores. Due to their nature of actively chasing prey as a pack when on the hunt, these animals have a higher success rate than other predators. They do however face the problem of running through snares, set up by bush meat poachers. They also face being persecuted when they escape from protected areas and kill domestic livestock in surrounding village lands. Finally, they are highly susceptible to diseases like canine distemper and rabies, that can be contracted from domesticated animals that they meet inside or outside the protected areas.

It has been two consecutive years that I’ve been fortunate to see this pack of painted hunting dogs mating and returning to the same area north of the Sand River to den. They gave birth to a litter of pups and have ‘successfully’ reared the young to a certain age whereby they leave the den and become nomadic. With this, they cover greater areas, looking for prey and avoiding the areas that are dense with other predatory species.

When I captured these photographs of the pups patiently waiting for the return of the adults at the den-site, the adults had been seen earlier in the morning hunting south of the river and had already killed two impalas, but unfortunately got robbed by a large clan of hyenas!

It wasn’t long before ten adult dogs returned and there was chaos!

Thirteen pups frantically interacted and raced from one adult to the next. They were begging for partially digested, and even whole, pieces of meat that were being regurgitated.

A few weeks prior to this sighting, a pride of lions that arrived at Singita a few months ago, wandered right past the initial den-site where the pups were born. With this occurrence, the adults moved the pups to a different location, which happened to be an old aardvark hole in the side of a termite mound they used last year!

Not too long after that pride moved further north, the resident pride on Singita also managed to find themselves in the vicinity of the pack and their pups. However, this time some of our guests and their field guide witnessed how the adult dogs tried desperately to lead the pride of lions away from the den as they yapped, irritated and worked coherently to protect their young!

As these pups mature to adults, the chances of all of them making it is unlikely, especially in an area like the Sabi Sand Game Reserve where their kills are often stolen, and they are dominated by larger predators that try to disrupt the nature of the pack! Same sex individuals leave their natal group and to find another group of opposite sex individuals to start a new pack.