What makes up a Painted Dog pack?
Painted Dogs are intensely social animals, living most of the time in close association with each other. While a minimum of six dogs are necessary to successfully hunt and breed, a pack can be as small as a pair, or as large as thirty. Pack allegiance, such as pups getting first feed at a kill or members caring for the sick and injured, is an integral part of pack survival.
The power structure resides in an alpha male and female pair, whose pups are nurtured by auntie 'baby sitters', regardless of their mother. The alpha female selects a denning site, digging the spot by herself with the help of the pack members, though she might choose an abandoned site, such as an aardvark hole.
After a gestation period of 69-72 days, her pups are born black, with irregular white spots. Weighing in at around 11 ounces, the 10-11 pups in the litter are the offspring of the alpha female, though it's been known for other females within the pack to have puppies. Weaned at around five weeks, they'll join the rest of the pack on hunts after six months. New packs are formed when same sex siblings leave their familial group and join up with sub groups of the opposite sex that have also left their natal group.
Prey for the Painted Dog is mostly medium-sized antelope like Impala, Bushbuck, Duiker, Kudu and Reedbuck. They have been known to take Wildebeest and also chase Eland and Buffalo, although they rarely kill these larger animals.
A three and a half year study conducted by Greg Rasmussen (1994-1997) concluded that stock losses attributed to the Painted Dog were not valid. In fact it could be determined that the main culprit in stock losses was humans. The study, following prior reports that the Painted Dog was culpable, took place on a farming property in Zimbabwe and proved that no stock was taken.
What makes the packs so strong?
The strength of the Painted Dog pack is attributed to three unique aspects of behavior - socialization, vocalization, and hunting methods.
Socialization clearly translates into the unity that is formed between bonded peers and pack leaders. Over years of research, it has been learned that the dogs clearly mourn deceased pack members, which is a sign of emotional ties. The good news is that new packs can be created by respectful intervention - and the dogs have proven to adopt new members.
Adding to this is the trait of the Painted Dog to vocalize - the audible extension of the pack's social world. It is the underpinning of an advanced communication that plays out in the squeaky, thin call of their voices. It extends into the position of their ears and the message of their body posture. Communication is a vital, unique, and important strength of pack unity.
Finally, the Painted Dog hunting methods keep the pack strong. An average adult dog will consume approximately nine pounds of live carcass each day, which would equate to an Impala per day for a pack of 15 dogs.
Among the fastest and most efficient of Africa's predators, Painted Dogs hunt during the morning and before dusk, and also show a preference for utilizing the light of a full moon. Their goal is to draw minimum attention from stronger predators. But while they share the victory of tireless pursuits with the pack, often the longer chases end with more powerful competitors, such as the hyena, stealing their rewards.
Goaded to hunt and devour quickly, the Painted Dog has perfected the fast kill. The positive consequence may be that the Painted Dog's method of killing ultimately shortens the suffering of the prey.