Shoulder height 70cm. Weight 25kg.
Also known as the painted hunting dog, the wild dog is distinguished from other African dogs by its large size and mottled black, brown and cream coat. Highly sociable, living in packs of up to 20 animals, wild dogs are ferocious hunters that literally tear apart their prey on the run. The most endangered of Africa's great predators, they are now threatened with extinction. This is the result both of relentless persecution by farmers, who often view the dogs as dangerous vermin, and of their susceptibility to diseases spread by domestic dogs. Wild dogs are now extinct in many areas where they were formerly abundant, like the Serengeti, and they are common nowhere. The global population of fewer than 3,000 is concentrated in southern Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa and Namibia.
Wild dogs prefer open savannah with only sparse tree cover, if any, and packs have enormous territories, typically covering 400km2 or more. They travel huge distances in search of prey, so few parks are large enough to contain them. Northern Botswana has one of the healthiest and most prolific populations in Africa, and Botswana is the best place on the continent to see them. These range right across Chobe, the Kwando-Linyanti and Okavango areas, and spreading out beyond these into Namibia and the northwest areas of the Kalahari.
They generally den around July to early October, and this is the only time when you can be fairly sure of seeing them in any given area. Sometimes they'll den in the same area for several years running, whilst at other times they'll change from year to year. For the best chances of seeing them – and a possibility of following a pack as they hunt (an amazing, exhilarating experience), choose a mainly dry reserve with plenty of open ground. Make sure that off-road driving is permitted, or you'll never be able to follow them, and ideally night drives should be allowed. Selinda, southern Kwando, Kwara and Vumbura would all currently be high on my list – and I've seen dogs in all of these. Better still, ask someone who knows the delta and the reserves well where specific packs have denned the previous season, and go there.
Given that dogs will take most antelope and always run down their prey, the only strategy that their prey can adopt to avoid death is to run as far, and as fast, as they can. They will do this as soon as they realise that dogs are in the area. Thus if you ever see game seriously sprinting with a purpose, and just not stopping, then look hard: maybe there's a pack of dogs behind them!