Gorongosa National Park's top feline predator—the lion—hunts by ambush. Discover how gregarious wild dogs use an entirely different strategy to take down prey.
The Anatomy of an African Wild Dog Hunt
Published: January 26, 2021
Narrator: In an African wilderness like Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park, each animal faces a fundamental task—day in, day out—finding something to eat.
Herbivores have an additional challenge: they must also avoid being eaten.
As for carnivores, to survive, they must kill. And to kill, they must hunt.
Paola Bouley: There's some dance that happens between those two groups of species. One doesn't want to be eaten, the other needs to eat. So, they each fulfill a unique niche in the ecology of the system.
Narrator: Two top carnivore species roam the forests and floodplains of Gorongosa: African wild dogs and lions. Each has their own particular style of hunting, and their own unique effect on the prey species around them.
Bouley: A lion is an ambush predator and our lions in Gorongosa tend to hang out in the tall grass and they almost literally wait for something to walk into their mouths. They’re not out running on the flood plains chasing down prey. They don’t have to spend that energy. There’s a stray waterbuck or a warthog that’s just walking through the grass… and all of a sudden, a lion is there. And it takes a split second for a lion to take it down.
Narrator: Prey are so plentiful in Gorongosa, lion rarely roam from their favorite grasslands, limiting their impact on the ecosystem.
Wide-ranging wild dogs provide an essential contrast.
Bouley: Compared to an ambush predator like a lion, a wild dog is a coursing predator. And that means that it chases down its prey. It’s not sitting, lying in wait for something to walk up to its area. It’s going to chase down what it wants to consume.
Narrator: Weighing less than eighty pounds, African wild dogs are built for speed and endurance. Their long, thin legs can carry them over a mile during a hunt and propel them at speeds approaching 40 miles an hour.
Bouley: Now, a lion is going to think twice about running after something, especially if they can just pick it out of the grass. But dogs are not stealthy in that sense. They’re gregarious. They’re playing together. They’re noisy. Animals see them coming from far. They’re not stealthy at all. So, they have to rely on the chasing.
Chasing, clearing, very different strategy to a lion.
Narrator: And there's much more to that strategy than simply out-running prey. The pack's meals emerge from an extraordinary routine.
Bouley: A typical day for the dogs right now is they tend to rest during the heat of the day but in the early mornings and late afternoons they begin to play, socialize more together and they hunt.
António "Tonecas" Paulo: (Translated from Portuguese) About thirty minutes before the hunt, they start playing, and you can see at that stage that they start to lower their heads and prick up their ears a bit and they make a calling sound between them.
Bouley: So, we're looking at some of the best wild dog habit here. It's a wide-open expanse, really flat, hard substrate—and they'll course through here.
They start moving across the landscape and then fractions of the pack break off and begin to select prey. Those dogs out in front who want to start hunting are out there already sussing everyone out.
Here we go.
Here in Gorongosa, we have palm thickets, and termite mounds and little patches of forest. Animals like a bushbuck or an oribi would be hunkered in the shade and what we have is a pack of dogs and a wave of teeth that are just sweeping through the landscape, sifting animals out of their refuges, and looking for that one weak moment.
Narrator: Once a victim is flushed out, the wild dogs kick into high gear.
Paulo: (Translated from Portuguese) They chase their prey at a very high speed. When this wave arrives, the prey has little chance to survive the attack.
Bouley: The beauty of a pack is that they function as a whole. Everybody needs to do well together. The sum is greater than the parts with a wild dog pack.
There's no fighting at kills. There's no outward aggression like you'll see with the lion. Everybody gets to eat, nothing is wasted. So, vultures will hang around, but there's very little scraps to be taken. They consume everything.
So, they’re having an impact on how animals are distributing themselves because herbivores understand: that’s a predator. They are fulfilling a unique role as a coursing predator in this system. And that’s a good thing.
PRODUCER / WRITER
Sean B. Carroll
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ORIGINAL MUSIC BY
HEAD OF PRODUCTION & DISTRIBUTION
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Henninger Media Services
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