Africa, south of the Sahara Desert


Open woodlands, grasslands, and savannas

Here, doggie, doggie!

African painted dogs are classified in the Canidae, or true dog, family along with jackals, foxes, coyotes, wolves, dingoes, and domestic dogs. They are frequently mistaken as hyenas. However, hyenas are different enough to be in a separate taxonomic family, Hyaenidae. Found in the open plains and savannas of Africa, painted dogs can also live and thrive in thicker bush and forest areas.

Colorful dogs

African painted dogs differ from their canid relatives in that they have four toes on their front feet instead of five. Long legs and a lanky body give the dogs both speed and endurance. Large, rounded ears give them excellent hearing and help keep the dogs cool in a hot climate. A pattern of splotches and splashes of black, different shades of brown, and white markings is unique to each individual dog and gives it its common name.

Constant wanderers, painted dogs rarely stay in one place more than a day or two.
The painted dog has many common names, including Cape hunting dog, wild dog, and tri-colored dog.
Fossil remains seem to suggest that the painted dog split from its canid relatives about 3 million years ago.
It has been recorded that an adult painted dog will look for days for a lost pup or juvenile, calling out with a special vocalization and listening for a reply to bring the lost dog back to the pack.
A painted dog female can have up to 21 pups in one litter, more than any other dog species.

The San Diego Zoo’s first painted dogs arrived here from a zoo in Germany in 1955. Over the years, 97 painted dogs have been born. Currently, the Zoo does not have painted dogs in its collection.

Disappearing dogs
Once found in most parts of Africa south of the Sahara Desert, African painted dogs are now gone from 25 of the 39 countries in which they were found a mere 50 years ago. Packs of 100 or more dogs used to be fairly common, but now these African predators are considered the second-most endangered carnivore (after the Ethiopian wolf) in Africa.

Many factors have contributed to the catastrophic decline in painted dog numbers over the last century. Europeans often regarded painted dogs as pests, and most colonial governments established long-term extermination programs that offered bounties in exchange for painted dog tails. Between 1945 and 1949, as many as 5,000 painted dogs were killed in such a program in Zambia, a number equal to the total populations left in Africa today.

Room to roam
Another problem for the painted dogs is habitat loss and fragmentation, as people are moving into more and more of the dogs' territory. Studies show that an African painted dog pack needs between 80 and 800 square miles (207 to 2,070 square kilometers) of land in which to roam and hunt. Unfortunately, most national parks in Africa are not large enough for even one painted dog pack, and family groups living outside protected areas are still killed by farmers and ranchers.

The dogs are also susceptible to diseases carried by domesticated dogs (such as rabies, canine distemper, and parvovirus) and can suffer devastating epidemics if exposed to one of these diseases.

To help conserve this endangered species, the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy support the Northern Rangelands Trust. This community-led conservation program in Kenya promotes the collective management of ecosystems to improve human livelihoods, biodiversity conservation, and rangeland management. The African hunting dog is one of the many species that benefits form this holistic conservation initiative.