African Wild Dog Watch – Papers

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The HANDLING-STRESS HYPOTHESIS And its Importance for the Conservation and Survival of the African Wild Dog [by Roger Burrows]

The feature common to all the wild dog study packs that died post 1985 was ‘handling’ and an hypothesis (Burrows 1992) later known as ‘The handling-stress hypothesis’, was an attempt to explain the selective extinction of all the ‘handled’ study packs whilst an ‘unhandled’ non-study population of wild dogs survived.

INVASIVE RESEARCH, REDUCED LONGEVITY and MORTALITY in an ENDANGERED SPECIES, the AFRICAN WILD DOG (Lycaon pictus) with special reference to the extinction of the Serengeti-Mara study population 1985-91 [by Roger Burrows]

The African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) an African endemic species is highly endangered with now perhaps less than 5,000 individuals. Between 1985-1991 the entire wild dog study population comprising 14 packs containing approximately 200 individuals died or disappeared from two study areas in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem of Tanzania (Serengeti) and Kenya (Mara), East Africa where the species had been considered a ‘flagship species’ for conservation. The ecosystem population did not become extinct in 1991 a non study population persisted within and around the ecosystem throughout the study period and persists to date.


The Wild Dog is a highly social, medium sized canid endemic to Africa where it lives in packs. The simplest pack comprises a lone pair of usually unrelated individuals plus or minus their offspring living on a home range. However, most packs consist of a dominant (alpha) breeding pair and their offspring, accompanied by subordinate same sex adult relatives of either or both of the alpha pair and sometimes offspring of one or more subordinate pairs. Totally unrelated individuals or groups of either sex may sometimes join such packs, usually temporarily.

YOUNG WILD DOG MALE is TOP DOG [by Roger Burrows]

In the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) breeding hierarchy a young male takes over as alpha when one of the alpha pair in their pack dies, or if two cohorts of males emigrate together from their natal pack or when a male pup is adopted by unrelated adult males. The diverse range of circumstances in which this ‘Young Male’ protocol has been found to operate in free living packs in contrasting habitats and in captive colonies suggests that it is genetically determined. This probably unique protocol in mammal behaviour has important implications for pack longevity and hence for the conservation, management and captive breeding of this highly endangered species.

A Guide to the African Wild Dog [by Roger Burrows]

This guide includes information on the following topics:-
Names: Evolution:Social Behaviour: including ‘Young Wild Dogs are Top Dog Protocol’ and Transfer of alpha male status to a male from the youngest cohort. Home Range: Pack Structure: Denning Season: Vocalization: Hunting: Feeding Hierarchy: Mock Mounting : Dispersal/Emigration: Pack Dissolution/Fission: Aggression : Invasive Research: Handling -Stress Hypothesis: And suggests answers to frequently asked questions:-

  • Why are Wild Dogs so Rare and Endangered?
  • Do Research Techniques Adversely Affect Wild Dog Study Populations?

Pack cohesion in the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) and a”young-male first” protocol in the acquisition of dominance. A Paper presented to the 5th International Symposium on Physiology, Behaviour and Conservation of Wildlife, Berlin 2004 [by Roger Burrows]

awdw0006tObservations of the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) population in the Serengeti ecosystem (1989 – 1991), and published information from the Serengeti and other ecosystems, indicate that acquisition of alpha-male status in the Wild Dog is quite different from that in the grey wolf (Canis lupus). Wild Dog packs typically contain an alpha (breeding) pair, subordinate founder adult males and females plus pups and/or yearlings born in the pack. Wild dogs have separate male and female dominance hierarchies and exhibit reproductive suppression. It is assumed, although not genetically established, that most offspring reared by the pack are those of the alpha pair. However, subordinate pairs can breed successfully in the alpha’s pack.

African wild dogs are social pack living canids with female reproductive suppression. Packs form when a group of males meets an unrelated group of females (founder adults). The alpha pair immediately becomes apparent.Thus a pack contains an alpha breeding pair, subordinate founder adult males and females plus pups and/or yearlings born in the pack.Yearling and founder adults help the alpha pair rear their offspring. Packs utilize large ranges that encompass relatively fixed geographical areas. In the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem all yearling females emigrate from their natal pack and if younger males are present in the pack so do all male yearlings. If two cohorts of males emigrate together then one of the younger males is alpha in the group and remains so when a female group is located and a new pack is formed.


The wild dog population in the southern district of Kruger National Park (KNP) has been studied since the 1960s. This district was reported as having the highest density of wild dogs in KNP and between 1975 and 1994 was described as either stable or increasing. Between 1993 – 2005 there was a dramatic decline in the KNP wild dog study population. This decline followed the commencement in 1989 of a period of intensive, highly invasive research involving anaesthetization, radio-collaring and tissue sampling, collectively known as ‘handling’.

An outbreak of rabies in the Serengeti District of Tanzania, East Africa [by Roger Burrows]

(Copy of letter by Roger Burrows published in the British Medical Journal 14 Dec.2004 relating to an outbreak of rabies in 2003 in recently vaccinated domestic dogs).

In the Serengeti District of Tanzania, as in some other parts of rural Africa, a proportion of the healthy unvaccinated local population of the aboriginal’ domestic dog breed have been exposed to and survived natural exposure to the rabies virus. Such apparently healthy, symptomless, chronically infected domestic dogs are considered likely to be infectious ‘carriers’ of the rabies virus they may intermittently secrete, perhaps when stressed, so maintaining rabies in the local population.

Vaccinations of African domestic dogs around Serengeti National Park (SNP), Tanzania and around Masai Mara National Reserve (‘Mara’), Kenya and their tragic outcomes [by Roger Burrows]

This is a story of highly experimental research with disastrous outcomes and of incomplete, confusing and contradictory data relating to them. Here I attempt to unravel these data and to document the course of events. I begin with a description of the local indigenous ancient breed of African Domestic Dog to emphasize the very great difference between them and the highly bred, well fed, well cared for ‘western’ breeds of domestic dogs. It is also significant to note that the vaccination against rabies of some members of a free-living Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) pack in 1989 was soon followed by the death of the whole pack with rabies confirmed.

Wildlife Research Needs Ethical Boundaries And Veterinary Supervision [by Dr. Michael Fox]

There are several documented, and many word-of mouth accounts of chemically immobilized and otherwise restrained endangered species like the Asian elephant and African wild dog being severely injured, killed or dying soon after capture and/or release. In some instances there was an association with the animals being injected with un-tested and un-approved modified live virus vaccines. In other instances the injured or killed animal was a pregnant or nursing mother.

African Wild Dog breeding program; Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania; Report 1995-2001 [by Aart M. Visee, D.V.M.]

With lots of enthusiasm and high hopes the African wild dog breeding program in Kisima camp, Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania, was started in 1995. The future looked bright with 25 beautiful pups and we were determined to do something to preserve the African wild dog from extinction by way of breeding them and re-introducing them to the wild in places where they had disappeared or seemingly disappeared.

Distemper Outbreak and Its Effect on African Wild Dog Conservation [by Marco W.G. van de Bildt, Thijs Kuiken, Aart M. Visee, Sangito Lema, Tony R. Fitzjohn, and Albert D.M.E. Osterhaus]

In December 2000, an infectious disease spread through a captive breeding group of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in Tanzania, killing 49 of 52 animals within 2 months. The causative agent was identified as Canine distemper virus (CDV) by means of histologic examination, virus isolation, reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction analysis, and nucleotide sequencing. This report emphasizes the importance of adequate protection against infectious diseases for the successful outcome of captive breeding programs of endangered species.

African Wild Dog Breeding Program, Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania, Report 2001-2005 [by Aart Visee, D.V.M.]

With lots of enthusiasm and high hopes, we started the African wild dog breeding program in Kisima camp, Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania, in 1995. The future looked bright with 25 beautiful pups, and we were determined to do something to preserve the African wild dog from extinction by way of breeding them and reintroducing them to the wild, in places where they had disappeared or seemingly disappeared.
Read the full text of this paper (PDF).
Distemper, Rabies and Parvovirus Vaccinations in a captive-breeding programme for the African Wild Dog in Northern Tanzania [by Aart M. Visee, D.V.M.]
In 1995 the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trusts (USA and UK). The African Wild Dog Foundation (Netherlands) and the Wildlife Preservation Trust Fund (Tanzania), at the invitation of the Tanzanian Government. initiated an African Wild Dog captive-breeding programme in the Mkomazi Game Reserve. Tanzania. The ultimate goal of this breeding programme is 10 re-establish viable populations of African Wild Dogs in protected areas in which the species was formerly resident, using captive bred animals of similar genetic stock.

Plan for re-Introduction of the African Wild Dog [by Aart M. Visee, D.V.M., Roger Burrows, Tony Fitzjohn, Lucy Fitzjohn]

Today it is recognized that the African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus), endemic only to Africa, is a highly endangered species with currently probably less than 5000 free-living adults. Reasons for their decline are given in various publications and in our Veterinary Reports 1996, 1997 and 1998. In 1995, in an attempt to reverse the decline, the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trusts (USA, UK and Holland), and the Wildlife Preservation Trust Fund (Tanzania), on the invitation of the Tanzanian Government, began a captive-breeding programme in the Mkomazi Game Reserve, with the ultimate goal of re-introducing the offspring back into areas where the dogs formerly lived and had now seemingly disappeared.