David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Painted Dog Facts

Painted dogs are known by many names, but how much do you know about them? You can find out more in our FAQs below.

Learning about painted dogs for the first time?

Download and print our painted dog factsheet for interesting facts on these hunting dogs.

What are painted dogs?

Painted dogs are canines, so true members of the dog family. However, they sit within their own group, as they have different dentition to typical dogs (adapted to their predominantly carnivorous diet), as well as lacking dew claws. 

They are also pack hunters, forming large family groups led by a dominant pair. Groups of same-sex adults will split off from larger packs to form new breeding groups.

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There are 39 sub-populations of painted dog

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Weighing up to 36kg, painted dogs are the largest canines in Africa.

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is the No. of mature individuals in population (21% of overall number)

Why are painted dogs endangered?

 

We cover this in more detail here, but in short, painted dogs are endangered due to habitat loss and fragmentation, disease, and poaching and killing carried out by humans.

Painted dogs are losing ground to humans, literally. There is a continuous and growing demand for land that is assimilated into new grazing for livestock, as well as settlement and agricultural growth.

Exposure to humans also means exposure to feral, stray, and domestic dogs, which can carry diseases fatal to painted dog populations, such as distemper. 

Across much of their traditional range of west Africa, painted dogs suffered persecution as agriculture needs and livestock herding grew. Significant numbers were poisoned and trapped. Even in their existing strongholds today, snaring and trapping of painted dogs is a severe threat to vulnerable and isolated populations.

Cape Painted Dog

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Scientific Name: Lycaon pictus
IUCN Red List Status: Endangered
Population Trend: Decreasing
Biggest Threats: Habitat loss due to human encroachment, unintentional killing from snares set by humans, and diseases transmitted from domestic dogs.
Geographic Distribution: Eastern and Southern Africa, including Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Identifying Traits: This is the largest sub-species of Painted Dog and is predominantly an orange-yellow colour overlapping with black fur. For the most part, this sub-species has a yellow underbelly, and white mane hairs.
Translation of the scientific name: “Lycaon” is derived from the Greek word meaning “wolf” and was used in Greek mythology where Lycaon was a king who transformed into a wolf. “Pictus” is the Latin word for “painted”. This means that whilst the painted dog is not a species of wolf, the literal translation is “painted wolf”.

East African Painted Dog

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Scientific Name: Lycaon pictus lupinus
IUCN Red List Status: Endangered
Population Trend: Decreasing
Biggest Threats: Habitat loss due to human encroachment, unintentional killing from snares set by humans, and diseases transmitted from domestic dogs.
Geographic Distribution: East Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda.
Identifying Traits: This sub-species has a typically very dark coat with minimal yellow fur.
Translation of the scientific name: “Lycaon is derived from the Greek word meaning “wolf” and was used in Greek mythology where Lycaon was a king who transformed into a wolf. Pictus is the Latin word for “painted”. Lupinus is the Latin word for wolf and likely refers to the wolf-like behaviour of this species. This means that whilst the painted dog is not a species of wolf, the literal translation is “painted wolf-like wolf”.

Somali Painted Dog

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David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Scientific Name: Lycaon pictus somalicus
IUCN Red List Status: Endangered
Population Trend: Decreasing
Biggest Threats: Habitat loss due to human encroachment, unintentional killing from snares set by humans, and diseases transmitted from domestic dogs.
Geographic Distribution: Somalia and parts of the Horn of Africa.
Identifying Traits: The Somali painted dog has a weaker dentition than its counterparts, and has much coarser fur with no yellow, but instead a buff colour in its place.
Translation of the scientific name: “Lycaon” is derived from the Greek word meaning “wolf” and was used in Greek mythology where Lycaon was a king who transformed into a wolf. “Pictus” is the Latin word for “painted”. “Somalicus” indicates that this species is from Somalia originally. This means that whilst the painted dog is not a species of wolf, the literal translation is “painted wolf from Somalia”.

Chadian Painted Dog

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Scientific Name: Lycaon pictus sharicus
IUCN Red List Status: Endangered
Population Trend: Decreasing
Biggest Threats: Habitat loss due to human encroachment, unintentional killing from snares set by humans, and diseases transmitted from domestic dogs.
Geographic Distribution: Chad and surrounding regions in Central Africa.
Identifying Traits: The Chadian painted dog has a fuller brain case, resulting in brightly coloured but short fur.
Translation of the scientific name: “Lycaon” is derived from the Greek word meaning “wolf” and was used in Greek mythology where Lycaon was a king who transformed into a wolf. “Pictus” is the Latin word for “painted”. “Sharicus” indicates that this species is from central Africa, known as the Shari region originally. This means that whilst the painted dog is not a species of wolf, the literal translation is “painted wolf from the Shari region”.

West African Painted Dog

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Leon Molenaar
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Scientific Name: Lycaon pictus manguensis
IUCN Red List Status: Endangered
Population Trend: Decreasing
Biggest Threats: Habitat loss due to human encroachment, unintentional killing from snares set by humans, and diseases transmitted from domestic dogs.
Geographic Distribution: Senegal, Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Identifying Traits: Dark fur on a large proportion of the faces and body and large, dark ears.
Translation of the scientific name: “Lycaon” is derived from the Greek word meaning “wolf” and was used in Greek mythology where Lycaon was a king who transformed into a wolf. “Pictus” is the Latin word for “painted”.
Nicholas Dyer
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

How many painted dogs are left in the wild?

Painted dogs are one of the most threatened predators in Africa, with fewer than 6,000 painted dogs remaining across the continent in 39 sub-populations.

How big are painted dogs?

Painted dogs can weigh in at anything between 40-70 lbs. (18-36 kg) and can stand 30-43 inches (76cm-1.1m). Females are typically slightly bigger than males. They are the largest canines in Africa.

What do painted dogs eat?

Painted dogs are specialist hunters that favour medium-sized antelope species. Alongside the cheetah, they are Africa’s only primarily diurnal (daytime) hunters. Gazelles are the most common prey species, but packs will also target wildebeest, zebra, and ostrich. Smaller prey items, such as birds, rodents, and hares might be taken by individuals. 

Packs adapt their hunting methods to different prey species. Antelope are usually approached silently, then run down and exhausted over distance. Wildebeest are panicked and rushed with excited yikkering, barking, and howling to separate the herd – so weaker and vulnerable animals can be targeted. And potentially dangerous animals such as warthog and porcupine, are usually attacked and dispatched at the head, to avoid injury.

Why are painted dogs known by different names?

Painted dogs have been labelled as wolves, as well as wild dogs. Studies revealed that being known as wild dogs was proving detrimental to their conservation, due to an inaccurate association with feral domestic dogs. They are also a separate genus from wolves and shouldn’t be classed as such.

You can support our work to save endangered animals from extinction by adopting today.

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