Kids' Animal Station

For kids who love animals by a kid who loves animals

African Wild Dog Facts: A First-Hand Encounter

Have you ever seen an African wild dog, in the wild? I haven’t. But I know two people who have!

Two of my grandparents, Grammy and Pop, recently went to the Okavango Delta in Africa — in Botswana, specifically (Africa is not a country!).

The Okavango Delta is known for its lush wildlife. There are multiple little “islands”, which are basically pieces of land surrounded by marshes. One of the coolest things about the Okavango Delta is the different biomes. There are marshes, plains, and lakes, among others.

On their trip, they learned about — and saw! — African wild dogs. They also met a scientist, John McNutt, who has really helped raise awareness about these very endangered animals. African Wild dogs are social, living in packs of up to 40 dogs. They can run up to speeds of 44 miles per hour, so it wouldn’t be wise to get in one’s way. African Wild Dogs normally eat prey like antelopes and zebras, but will eat anything that gets handed their way, such as a dead elephant.

I interviewed Grammy and Pop by email about their experience. This is what they had to share:

What are the everyday behaviors of the African wild dog?

The dogs stay together all the time. The packs are normally 15 to 20 dogs. The largest one seen had 51 dogs. There are 3000-5000 dogs left on earth. 700-800 are in Botswana. They are highly endangered. They hunt as a group (which allows them to attack much bigger animals) in the early morning and late in the afternoon. We first ran across one pack when they were eating an elephant carcass (it died of natural causes). They can weigh up to 65 pounds. They can move 25 miles in one day.

In groups, who nurtures the babies? How?

Only the dominant female has pups. The father is the dominant male of the pack. They normally have all the pups in the pack. The gestation period is 2 1/2 months and she normally has 6-10 pups. Males and females both “babysit” and help with the babies.

What did you notice most about these creatures when you saw them in person?

The dogs are clearly in the dog family. No other mammal in Africa is. The head looks like a smaller German Shepard and is beautiful. They have a while stripe on the tail. Some are majestic. We saw some young ones playing together and having fun.

How has Dr. McNutt helped these animals?

Dr. John W. McNutt has studied the dogs since 1989. His nickname is Tico. He has charted the life history of over 1000 dogs spanning 8 generations. He continues to track them all over and has increased the knowledge about them dramatically. He does “solution driven research.” He flies his own small plane to go from spot to spot in Botswana and the Okavango Delta. Farmers sometimes poison and kill the dogs. He is worried about the human/wildlife conflict. Fences are dangerous and a real problem. There is a need for more range-wide landscape planning and new laws and policy.

What was it like meeting Dr. McNutt?

Dr. McNutt is very smart and yet a nice “ordinary”guy. We discussed flying [my Pop is a former Navy pilot] and his family. His wife, Leslie, is a scientist as well. His Phd. is in animal behavior. She is an anthropologist, and they run a chemical ecology lab together. She runs an environmental program for 5th graders in South Africa and Botswana. They have two children going to college in Canada. They are both Canadians.

What are some of the most important things people can do to help save the dogs? People like me who do not live near them? And people who do live near them?

Those of us who live far away can support his “Wild Dog Research Project” now called the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust ( by donating and spreading the word.

There are few people in the Okavango Delta. The land area is massive and unique in that all the water in the Delta does not flow into an ocean but ends in the desert.  The farmers who are nearby just need to find ways to co-exist with the dogs and other animals.

Do you have pictures you took that I can share on my blog?

Yes! [All pictures below taken by Grammy or Pop in the Okavango Delta!]


wild dogs 3

wild dogs 5

wild dogs 4

If you want to see a picture of the dogs eating an elephant, scroll way down. (Not for the faint of heart! Remember, the elephant was already dead!)

Learn more about Dr. McNutt at this video his college made about him:













wild dogs elephant

Wise Words

"Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if a person or animal is at stake."
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter."
— Translation of African Proverb

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