Photo safari – African hunting dogs

By Ed Yong | January 31, 2010 12:54 pm

This, sadly, isn’t part of the South African series. We weren’t quite lucky enough to see any hunting dogs there. For that, I had to make a trip to London Zoo yesterday. They were worth the price of admission in themselves though.

To me, these are the most beautiful of Africa’s predators. They are also the most successful, by some considerable margin. Attacking in large groups and built for long chases, around 80% of wild dog hunts end in a kill. This compares to a measly success rate of (I think) around 25% for the big cats.

Anyone following yesterdays tweets, which John Timmer described as “surly science writer visits zoo”, will know of my frustration with zoo-attending parents. Buying the tickets doesn’t make you David Attenborough. Nor does it validate the decision to insist that these animals are hyenas despite the fact that (a) they look nothing like hyenas and (b) there is a massive clue to the contrary. See below:

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Animals

Comments (6)

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I made it to ZSL London Zoo for the first time in ages last August, just at the end of the heatwave, and while I was really there to see the Komodo Dragons and the Galapagos tortoises, the African Hunting dogs were easily the highlight of the visit.
    They’re such beautifully charismatic animals; and smart too. I couldn’t get over the fact that one of them was clearly as interested in me as I was in them. It was pacing me as I moved along the edge of the enclosure, watching me with obvious curiosity, and whenever I looked back it’s whole posture changed into one I interpreted as friendly submission; much like, say, a pet dog. I didn’t want to freak it out so I tried not to stare back too much (plus I wasn’t certain of my interpretation of it’s stance; you can’t necessarily assume that their body language is the same as a domestic dog’s,) but it was hard not to be entranced by it. Zoo animals are usually so jaded by the millions of gawking humans that walk by their enclosure that the best you get is a casual glance, but here was a mostly wild predator (if the electric fences and feeding zip-line are anything to go by) interacting socially with me. It’s the sort of thrill that makes going to the zoo so worthwhile.
    When I got back from that trip, I was inspired to pick up Roger & Pat de la Harpe’s ‘In Search of the African Wild Dog’ from Amazon. It took six months to be delivered, but is a great read with some amazing photography; I can heartily recommend it for anyone interested in these amazing, but sadly endangered animals.

  2. Ah, see, I saw these guys at the London zoo while I was there last year. Beautiful animals. I watched them wander around in their pen…they reminded me of the wolves we have in the Anchorage zoo, only cuter. The 80% kill rate is fantastic–what are the big cats doing wrong?

  3. Ed Yong

    The dogs are also always active. I’ve never been without seeing them up and about. The Komodo dragons, by contrast, are usually disappointing. After much fanfare, a winding path, and various scary placards, you usually see a tail sticking out of a bush. Admittedly, a very large tail but still…

  4. They look in excellent shape for zoo wild dogs! Many zoo carnivores used to lots of exercise in the wild are often fat in zoos and are a poor sight. I am yet to see a healthy bunch of zoo meerkats, either they are overfed or they don’t have enough space to roam.

  5. This reminds me when I was at the local zoo and there was some bird exhibit there. A local crane or something had flown into the cage and was sitting alongside similarly sized but completely different looking birds natural to the exhibit. I heard somebody looking at the exhibit sign and say “uhh, that white one must be the female.” *headdesk*

  6. I believe I read a few years ago that their numbers are sadly diminished in Africa. I hope that they are not going to vanish from the wild!

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