Tag Archives: African Conservation

African Wildlife Encounter #2: African Wild Dogs with Puppy

On this day while in Tembe Elephant Park we were working to habituate three African Wild Dogs (also called Painted Dogs) to the sound of the vehicle. The goal was to get them used to our vehicle so that we could both identify all the members of the pack, check their health, and eventually dart them for translocation to a safer area. To do this, we routinely had to locate the alpha female which wears a radio-collar and place parts from a dead Nyala or Impala on the ground, chained or tied to a tree.

A recording of Painted Dogs making a kill was played and usually after 10-20 minutes the pack would have found us and sniffed out the free food. This was the first time that we saw the puppy come out from its den.

Painted Dog pups typically den for their first several weeks, suckling from their mother and, when they’re old enough, eating food regurgitated to them from their older pack members or small bits of food brought back for them. After only a couple of months they must be strong enough to follow the pack’s nomadic lifestyle and keep up on the exciting hunts. Once old enough to keep up with the pack, Painted Dogs typically let the youngest eat first to make sure that they have enough nourishment, which is why we see the adult deferring to the youngest member. The twittering sounds heard int his video mostly come from this feisty pup who is excited to have this feast and also bravely guarding his meal!

Like their canine cousins, Painted Dogs give birth to several pups per litter. Unfortunately the little pup in the video, probably 8-12 weeks old, was the only survivor. While it’s not uncommon for pups to be lost due to weakness or disease, it’s most likely that predator persecution by lions was the cause of this pup losing its siblings.

The pup was very strong and active during the observation period, as shown in this video. The high-pitched vocalizations that are heard are characteristic of Painted Dogs and serve as a means of expressing excitement over their meal and letting others in the pack know that there is food to share.

More Information:

Many people have mistaken the African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) as a diseased Wolf, Domestic Dog, or even Jackal. However there are several defining visual characteristics which set the African Wild Dog apart from its distant relatives in the Canidae family. The most obvious feature is the coloration of its coat. Often they have three distinct colors represented: white, black, and tan, although there are some dogs with little or no white. Close-up, it’s also easier to make out their ears which are larger than a similarly-sized dog’s or wolf’s and much more rounded than triangular.

African Wild Dogs are better described by their other name, “Painted Dogs,” because they are naturally wild and evolved independently from the other extant species in the Canidae family, which includes Wolves, Jackals, Coyotes, and Domestic Dogs. Painted Dogs live in packs with usually around a dozen members, but packs have been observed with three times that many members. They are among Africa’s most successful hunters. Painted Dogs achieve their goals at least 30% of the time, about twice as often as large cats including Lions which may hunt as a pride.

Unlike Lions and other species that live in a close-knit group, Painted Dogs often let their young eat first. This suggests that the dogs are not only grouping for social reasons, but because they are stronger as a pack and only as strong as their weakest member.

African Wildlife Encounter #1: African Wild Dogs & a Nyala (Graphic)

While on Somkhanda Game Reserve in South Africa I had the good fortune to witness a very natural animal encounter between predator and prey. Although my group had regularly seen this pack of African Wild Dogs in various states of rest, play, hunting, and post-hunt activities, this was the first time we had seen the pack make the kill from start to finish. Although gruesome, it was exciting to see them on the hunt and achieve success. We also got to see how the group dynamic played out, which often has the youngest members eating first (puppies, sub-adults) and the older, stronger members eating last. This is the opposite of lions and is likely one of the factors which contributes to the ability of canines to support many more individuals per group than feline species. Of course, some of the dogs higher in the hierarchy pull out the tasty bits for themselves or, as seen in the video, pull out the foul-smelling innards and drag it down-wind.

Many people have mistaken the African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) as a diseased Wolf, Domestic Dog, or even Jackal. However there are several defining visual characteristics which set the African Wild Dog apart from its distant relatives in the Canidae family. The most obvious feature is the coloration of its coat. Often they have three distinct colors represented: white, black, and tan, although there are some dogs with little or no white. Close-up, it’s also easier to make out their ears which are larger than a similarly-sized dog’s or wolf’s and much more rounded than triangular.

African Wild Dogs are better described by their other name, “Painted Dogs,” because they are naturally wild and evolved independently from the other extant species in the Canidae family, which includes Wolves, Jackals, Coyotes, and Domestic Dogs. Painted Dogs live in packs with usually around a dozen members, but packs have been observed with three times that many members. They are among Africa’s most successful hunters. Painted Dogs achieve their goals at least 30% of the time, about twice as successful as large cats including Lions which may hunt as a pride.

I’ve previously written about this topic in Fence Lines: Dividing Africa and its Wildlife, but in the video below we get to see exactly how predatory animals have adapted to the existence of fence lines and used them to their advantage. In the case of this pack of Painted Dogs we had previously seen them chasing prey towards fence lines, although not always with such results, and cooperating to make the kill.

Warning: This video is graphic.

Disclaimer: Red Hawk Adventures is not affiliated with Somkhanda Game Reserve or Wildlife ACT.

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Asian Wildlife: Tiger (Panthera tigris)

There is only one species of Tiger, however there are six of nine modern subspecies still found throughout Asia. Tigers are among the most well-known species of big cat, especially throughout Asia and the Middle East where they play a strong role in folklore and culture. The Tiger is also featured in the symbols of many ancient cultures and is the national animal of South Korea, India, Malaysia, and Bangladesh. Like Leopards, the Tiger is feared for its attacks on humans, particularly in areas with dense human populations who live in or near a Tiger’s territory. However this fear is not entirely misplaced as it is estimated that Tigers account for the most human deaths of any mammal and is more likely to defend itself by killing a disruptive human than Lions or Leopards.

While the Lion is considered the “King of the Jungle” it is the Tiger that is the largest extant cat species and is highly adaptable to a variety of climates and ecosystems. There are even efforts to save current Tiger populations by introducing them into safe areas that are far outside their traditional habitats. Success in this endeavor is due in no small part to the apex predator’s lack of specialization, allowing it to make the best of environments that Lions and Cheetah would find inhospitable.

The Tiger is one of the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac and the White Tiger, ruler of the West, is one of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellations (or cardinal directions). In the Chinese agricultural calendar the Tiger is the first animal and is linked to spring. Tigers may also symbolize Earth in Chinese art, whereas the contrasting Dragon symbolizes spirit, thereby creating a balanced yin and yang.

Conservation Status & Threats

Elephantback Tiger Hunt: A Surprise Appearance of a Tiger (Public Domain)
Elephantback Tiger Hunt: A Surprise Appearance of a Tiger (Public Domain)

Most if not all Tigers that are alive today, totaling fewer than 5,000 in the wild, have a predominantly orange coat and black stripes. While Tigers with a white coat, black stripes, and blue eyes are naturally occurring in the Bengal Tiger (P. t. ssp. tigris) subspecies, these animals have not been seen in the wild since 1953 and any remaining specimens are likely in captivity.

Tiger hunting has been a popular activity for hundreds of years, especially in India which featured grand hunts for the maharajas and other wealth people, including the British during the British Raj. In the 1900s Tiger parts became a popular part of the animal parts trade which included their skins, teeth, and claws. During this time Tiger populations were reduced by 95% from an estimated 100,000. The “Traditional Chinese Medicine” made a resurgence beginning in 1950 and now the Tiger parts trade includes the penis, which is incorrectly believed to act as an aphrodisiac or sexual-performance enhancer, and the tail, which is used by some in attempted treatments of skin conditions and joint ailments.

Today poaching of Tigers still occurs, but unsuccessful mating due to habitat disruption and disturbances by humans may play a significant role in the continued decline of Tiger populations in Asia. Despite a ban in the trade of Tiger bones in China the farming of Tigers, by raising them in captivity and harvesting their organs and other parts, may be the largest supplier of the contemporary black market animal parts trade.

Recent efforts by Save China’s Tigers have brought a limited number of tigers to the country of South Africa, where the apex predators have thus far seen success in a limited introduction to the South African climate and ecosystems.

Habitat & Life

Historical range of tiger is shown in pale yellow and current range (2006) in green. CC2.5G; from Fate of Wild Tigers: Sanderson, E., Forrest, J., Loucks, C., Ginsberg, J., Dinerstein, E., Seidensticker, J., Leimgruber, P., Songer, M., Heydlauff, A., O’Brien, T., Bryja, G., Klenzendorf, S., Wikramanayake, E. (2006).

Tiger populations have decreased approximately 50% over the past twenty years their range has fallen by the same percentage, an important correlation that backs up population studies. Across all 6 remaining subspecies of Tiger it’s estimated that fewer than 5,000 individuals worldwide and are all listed as endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN. It’s suspected that Tigers are more susceptible to disturbance by humans, which may account for some loss of range and difficulty in finding mates. However hunting and poaching likely contribute to the majority of the population decline.

Tigers still exist throughout most countries in South East Asia as well as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Burma (Myanmar). They can be found throughout regions with rocky terrains, tropical rainforests, swamps, evergreen forests, and grasslands; and apparently have no problem with large obstacles, such as rivers and bays, as Tigers have been recorded swimming nearly 30 kilometers without pause. On land they typically travel 10-20 km a day, but may cover as much as 60 kilometers as they attentively patrol their vast territories.

Hunting Tiger in Ranthambore. Photo by Rhaessner (CCA-SA3.0)

It’s thought that Tigers hunt primarily by sight and sound and like many big cat species their attacks on prey are rarely successful, with a recorded failure rate of 90% in some specimens. By comparison, Lions, who may hunt alone but more often in a group of two or more, have a failure rate of around 80%. African Wild Dogs are among the most successful predators, mostly due to their incredible endurance and pack size, and only fail to catch prey 20-30% of the time.

Primarily solitary animals, Tigers make exceptions when they are searching for a mate or in the case of a female raising her young. Typically females will mate once every 2-4 years, having a litter of up to six cubs, but more typically 2-3. Life expectancy of cubs during the first two years is only 50%, however successful Tigers may live for more than 20 years in the wild.

Relatives

Moholoholo-lions

There are many big cats in the Panthera genus, including the well-known Lion. However there are other species like the Snow Leopard, which has been recently added to the Panthera genus, but may not be as closely related to a Leopard as it is to the Tiger! As well, the Cheetah is a distant relative, and is the fastest mammalian predator in the world.

Due to having an identical number of chromosomes (38) a Tiger is able to mate with a Lion. Such a hybrid is called a Liger (in the case of a male Lion and a female Tiger) or a Tigon (in the case of a female Lion and male Tiger). The Liger is notable for its immense size – even larger than a Tiger – due to not inheriting a growth-inhibiting gene. However male Ligers will be sterile, and thus it does not seem to be a persistent occurrence, particularly when these two species no longer have naturally overlapping domains. Tigons inherit a growth-inhibiting gene and are typically smaller than a Lion.

Identification

Lions are second in size to Tigers and can weigh around 250 kg (550 lb), while the largest Tiger subspecies can weigh as much as 306 kg (675 lb). Historically Lions and Tigers have been able to inhabit parts of the Middle East and Central Asia, however their current ranges are regions apart, meaning that they will not be seen near one another. Their markings contrast significantly, along with other identifying features, making them easier to distinguish in captivity than the Cheetah and Leopard.

Cheetah (top) and Leopard (bottom), roughly to scale.
Cheetah (top) and Leopard (bottom), roughly to scale.

Tiger tails are 60 to 110 cm (24 to 43 in) in length, almost identical in length to a Leopard’s and used for similar purposes of balance when both chasing down prey and when climbing trees. However Tigers are thought to rarely climb trees, whereas Leopards in Africa and Asia frequently climb trees to avoid being seen or disturbed.

The largest Tiger subspecies, the Bengal, stands at 1.22m (4 ft) tall and weighs on average 300 kg (650 lb), with the largest specimen ever recorded at an astounding 389 kg (857 lb) as recorded in 1957 by hunter David Hasinger.

The male Tiger is significantly larger than its female counterpart by as much as 70%. Another characteristic that can be used to determine male from female are paw sizes, with male Tiger paws being notably larger than a female’s.

Tiger Subspecies Comparison (Figures are approx.)

Attribute Wild Population Length (incl. tail) Male Weight Female Weight
Bengal (P. t. tigris) < 3,000 2.4-3.1 m   (8-10 ft) 180-260 kg (400-570 lb) 100 to 160 kg (220-350 lb)
Indochinese (P. t. corbetti) 350 2.4-2.7 m   (8-9.5 ft) 150-195 kg (331-430 lb) 100–130 kg (220-290 lb)
Malayan (P. t. jacksoni) < 500 1.8–2.8 m  (6–9.7 ft) 47.2-129.1 kg (104-285 lb) 24-88 kg     (53-194 lb)
Siberian (P. t. altaica) < 400 160-230 cm (63-91 in) 180-306 kg (397-675 lb) 100-167 kg (220-368 lb)
South China (P. t. amoyensis) ~65 220–260 cm (87–102 in) 130 to 180 kg (290-400 lb) 100-110 kg (220 to 240 lb)
Sumatran (P. t. sumatrae) < 500 2.1 to 2.2 cm (85-89 in) 100-140 kg (220-310 lb) 75-110 kg (165-243 lb)
Bali (P. t. balica) extinct ? 90-100 kg (200-220 lb) 65–80 kg   (143–176 lb)
Caspian (P. t. virgate) extinct ? ? ?
Javan (P. t. sondaica) extinct ? 100-140 kg (220-310 lb) 75–115 kg (165–254 lb)

Sources

“Panthera tigris”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“Panthera tigris ssp. altaica”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“Panthera tigris ssp. amoyensis”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“Panthera tigris ssp. corbetti”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“Panthera tigris ssp. jacksoni”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“Panthera tigris ssp. sumatrae”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“Panthera tigris ssp. tigris”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“Panthera tigris balica”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. (extinct)

“Panthera tigris virgata”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. (extinct)

“Panthera tigris sondaica “. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. (extinct)

Walker’s Mammals of the World, Sixth Ed., Vol. 1 by Ronald M. Nowak

Further Reading

In the Shadow of the Tiger Documentary Film

PBS Nature film Siberian Tiger Quest Full Episode on PBS.org

The Object at Hand: The story behind the Smithsonian’s display tiger leads back into tiger history, man-eating and otherwise, and sadly, back to the fact that tigers are now endangered.

Featured image photo credit: A Bengal Tiger, photograph by John and Karen Hollingsworth, US Fish and Wildlife Service (Public Domain)