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Painted Hunting Dog

Lycaon pictus

Painted Hunting DogThe Species and its Habitat

The Painted Hunting Dog, also known as the African wild dog, once occurred throughout the whole of sub-Saharan Africa with populations extending into North Africa. Able to utilise most habitats, they were even sighted in habitat as extreme as the snows of Mount Kilimanjaro. Tragically with the advent of the European colonisation of Africa, the dogs were mercilessly persecuted, even to the extent of being eradicated from national parks. They were reduced in numbers from 500 thousand to a mere two to three thousand and a great proportion of these are either in unsafe and prey-depleted areas.

Painted Hunting Dogs are not closely related to domestic dogs but are the sole representative of an ancient evolutionary line. Recognising this fact the scientific name Lycaon pictus translates as painted Wolf-like animal. They are true hunters, do not scavenge and will feed on the most available antelope in their region. They are so efficient their prey is dispatched in seconds rather than minutes.

The dogs have a territory averaging 750 square kilometres, the largest of any land mammal. Able to run at 60 km an hour and trot at 15 km an hour, they will cover an average ten to 30 km a day searching for food. Consequently the majority of packs on the border of protected areas utilise farmland. A pack averages 7-12 dogs. Once a year, one pair in each pack breeds - with all the other pack members assisting with feeding, protecting, and rearing the pups. In contrast to other predators such as lions, the pups have priority to the kill for the first year of their lives with the bonds within the pack being so strong that the dogs will care for their sick and injured when they are able.

Gregory RasmussenProject Leader: Gregory Rasmussen

Though British, I grew up in Zimbabwe where I was naturalised and developed a strong affinity for and understanding of the country's flora, fauna and people. As a child, I spent all my time trying to understand wildlife and spent school holidays at the Natural History Museum where I was fortunate to be taken under the wing of one of the curators.

I left Zimbabwe during the war of independence. After training as a British Merchant Navy deck Officer and undertaking meteorological and oceanographical surveys, I worked for Sir Ranulf Fiennes' Transglobe Expedition bound for the North & South Poles. However, something was missing and when a childhood mentor invited me on a field expedition in Zimbabwe, I stayed, went back to college and majored in Zoology & Botany.

I started working with Painted Hunting Dogs as a field assistant in Hwange National Park in 1990. The first three packs I tried to study were all killed within 12 months. Natural causes paled into insignificance as speeding cars, snares & shooting accounted for 95% of all recorded mortality. These memories cast the die for the foundation of my current project which was established in 1993. The objective was simple. Namely to understand, reduce and eliminate such needless and senseless mortality.

This work became my vocation and I strengthened my bond with conservation by developing a strong identifiable network that cross-pollinates with all cross sections of people and wildlife in Zimbabwe, as well as other African countries that have Painted Hunting Dogs.

A pack of Painted Hunting DogsThe Painted Hunting Dog Conservation Project, Zimbabwe

Our mission statement is 'Conservation through action and education'. Our main goal is to conserve and increase the range and numbers of hunting dogs in Zimbabwe and - through research and experiment - provide conservation tools & education material that can be used to protect this highly endangered carnivore both in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa.

The project has three main foci: to identify through research the problems facing Painted Hunting Dogs in Zimbabwe; to disseminate information regarding the problems facing this species and to actively reduce known causes of mortality and prevent those that are looming.

Conservation does not occur on an island and so we undertook a holistic approach that encompasses all the stakeholders, particularly farmers, school children and local communities. In our eyes, this is a vital component of any conservation effort. After all, people conserve what they love. One of the aims therefore has been to turn what was a perceived pest into a best-loved animal that the people of Zimbabwe are proud to have and empathise with. We have come a long way in the past years but there is still much to do and most importantly leave behind a legacy of people who care and will carry the conservation torch.

Painted Hunting DogProject Update

The project has been going REALLY well. We have a great compliment of very proud staff, 10 more in fact. The education officer has been setting up coursework to fit in with the school curriculum as well as doing a good stint of school talks. We took out 60 children one day into the park in safari vehicles, which was a real winner and one we are going to repeat. The anti poaching unit has removed 5000 snares and we have - TOUCH WOOD - not lost a dog to snares since they started (a far cry from last year) and the rural district council has just allocated us 12 acres for community conservation work. So all in all we are very content. Flat out training all the new staff but then it is so good to have more on the dog team. So, in spite of all, moral is high. Today, in part of our focal study area we did a tally of 115 dogs. Not to be sniffed at!

Painted Hunting DogOur education programme has taken a quantum leap with the addition of Nelson Mzurabani who now regularly visits local schools with the dog message. Also the building programme continues with the first of the teachers houses already completed at Ngamo and all are so delighted by the development; it is worth the effort for this alone. However, we are certain that having such a positive impact on the lives of these influential people will have an equally beneficial impact on the lives of the dogs that inhabit the region.

Regular reports come in of packs (2) in the area, a situation that was unheard of just a few years ago. Consequently, with the help of some safari operators, we now monitor six packs, totalling 87 individuals. Our wider monitoring encompasses a further five packs, totalling a minimum of 43 individuals. It is so encouraging to witness what appears to be an increase in numbers, pup survivorship is high at the moment and we are keeping our fingers crossed that it stays this way.

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