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What do wild dogs eat?
Wild dogs eat mostly livestock, but also scavenge for ungulates and a wide variety of mammals, including large reptiles. The hunting style varies depending on the type of animal they’re pursuing. Smaller animals are dispatched by the wild dog, and the larger animals are taken down and dragged to the wild dog’s den.
Wild dogs prefer meat sources over vegetation. For example, when hunting large herbivores, they may only eat the leaves and tender stems, they never eat the woody stems. Large predators, on the other hand, will sometimes eat vegetation when forced by necessity. Carnivores often eat the vegetation when they scavenge a carcass, but are usually not dependent on the vegetation to fulfill their energy requirements. Some carnivores, such as bears and cats, will consume vegetation when they are feeding on herbivores.
The majority of wild dog diet is comprised of small and medium-sized prey species. These are the easier prey and are typically only eaten by wild dogs once or twice per year. Wild dogs eat more medium and large sized prey, such as antelope and wildebeest, than small prey. Carnivores, primarily lions and leopards, are a significant contributor to the wild dog diet. These carnivores typically only eat the fat-rich meat of ungulates. Wild dogs, on the other hand, will eat the whole carcass of an ungulate.
The type of prey a wild dog hunts also plays an important role in its diet. Wild dogs living in more arid regions tend to eat more small prey and less medium sized prey than those living in wetter environments. Larger prey, such as wildebeest, is the most commonly eaten by wild dogs in dry climates. Medium sized prey such as bushbuck and duiker tend to be a more important part of wild dogs’ diets in areas with wetter, more temperate weather.
The environment and prey available in an area will also affect the size and frequency of a wild dog’s diet. As wild dogs increase in numbers, they have the ability to be more successful at obtaining the food they need. As more wild dogs forage at a particular location, they will tend to kill and eat larger prey. They may also have more food available to them when searching for food. Because wild dogs are more likely to be successful hunting for prey that they have access to, the availability of larger prey species will increase. This is especially true for lions and leopards, which tend to hunt larger prey when there are more other large prey species in the area. This effect is less likely to occur when prey density is low.
The sex and age of prey species also affect a wild dog’s diet. Larger prey is more commonly killed by older males than younger individuals. Also, in areas where small prey species dominate the diets, females will only eat wild dogs’ smaller prey, because they can defend themselves from lions. Younger wild dogs, who are learning how to hunt and how to track, will typically eat medium to large prey. Their diets also tend to vary from season to season. In the dry season, when the grass is dry, smaller prey such as rats will often be more common than larger prey such as bushbuck or zebra. In the wet season, when the grass is wet, more wildebeest will be eaten by wild dogs.
There have been a number of studies that have suggested wild dogs will tend to preferentially kill prey that are close in size to themselves. This is known as the predator satiation effect and was first described by researchers working in the Karakoram in the 1970s.
Diet selection of male lionesses in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa in the wet season (top), and in the dry season (bottom). Males are less selective in the wet season as their size increases. In the dry season, however, lions tend to select smaller prey as their size increases (Image credit: Zihlman et al. 2010)
Prey selection in relation to body size has been shown by a study in Botswana, and a meta-analysis in Africa, to show that animals’ selection of prey will differ based on the size of the animal they hunt. In the wet season, when prey are smaller than the predator, the predator will often choose to eat the smaller animals because they are easier to capture. In the dry season, however, when prey are bigger than the predator, the predator will tend to attack the larger prey because it is easier to capture. While this is known to be a universal phenomenon, the differences in selection of prey size based on the seasons is dependent on the predator species. It is not yet known if this is the case for wild dogs.
There is little evidence that prey selection differs based on sex, although the hunting behaviour and hunting success of male and female canids appear to differ. The hunting success of males tends to be greater than that of females. This may be due to male and female canids being smaller and having greater endurance, and due to males being able to take down larger prey than females.
Male and female wild dogs hunting a kudu (top), and a wildebeest (bottom). Although males and females are similar in size, females spend more time than males waiting to hunt (Image credit: Dr. Kacem El Khadem, University of Toulouse, France, 2011)
Wild dogs and other canids have been seen hunting in packs, often with other canids. While lions have been shown to avoid hunting with other canids, wild dogs are often seen hunting in packs. It is known that groups of wild dogs can form groups of up to 100 animals. They do not usually hunt together, but are likely to do so in times of famine. A female wild dog with a pack of about 10 members will stay with the pack and work with them when hunting. Males usually work alone, while a solitary male can be an indication of an orphaned pup.
One of the main reasons wild dogs are hunted for their pelts is to sell the skins. Pelts are used to make coats, which are sold to the tourist trade. Pelts are sold at a high price because they are very difficult to obtain, often taking many years for the pelts to reach the desired size.
Lions are the main predator of wild dogs. Because of this, some hunting takes place over the summer, when lions are inactive. It is suspected that lions hunt wild dogs in the summer in the northern region of the Serengeti, and in the southern regions in Kenya, where lions hunt the impala. However, most lion hunting takes place between July and October, when the wet season causes the migration of wild dogs and lions to the Serengeti. Since lions are mainly found in the dry season, the lions are forced to spend more time on their own. Lions have also been known to attack and kill wild dogs and other wild animals. However, it is unlikely that the lion kills will be successful. Most of the time, a successful kill will leave the wild dog crippled.
A young lion will eat the first animal it comes across, usually a juvenile impala or warthog. In years of drought, when there is a shortage of prey, lions will look to wild dogs as prey. Lionesses also sometimes feed on young wild dogs and sometimes on adult wild dogs. Lionesses are very protective of their cubs and will even kill a mother wild dog when it tries to protect its offspring.
Predation occurs mainly on the sides and tops of branches. Foraging occurs while resting at night, usually in the lower branches of the