‘Dog-napping’ between African wild dog packs in Botswana

The pups were stolen from one pack, and then raised with the young from a rival pack in this rare display of abduction behaviour.

The stolen pups with the 'Splash' pack's pups.

Wildlife guides in Botswana’s Okavango Delta were surprised by the changing pack dynamics of their local group of African wild dogs, a pack known as the ‘Splash’ pack, when the adults stole pups from a rival group.

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A couple of weeks ago the pack of eight travelled over 5km from their home, into their rival’s territory, where they proceeded to chase away the adults and steal all three puppies from their den.

The three pups are safe and well and being raised alongside ‘Splash’ pack’s eleven younger offspring.

Even though this behaviour is rare it’s not the first incident of pups being abducted from this family group of wild dogs. In 2017, the same rival pack stole a lone puppy that was outside of the den at the time.

Director at Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, Tico JW McNutt says: “Wild dogs are predisposed to care for young even if they are not their own, so this behaviour between neighbouring packs is fascinating but not entirely surprising; I suspect these two packs are the result of a fission of a larger pack, probably dating back to 2017.”

Fission of a pack of wild dogs is the result of two or more ‘sub-packs’ forming where the adults are all related. Therefore raising the young of another pack still has benefits of protecting the family genes.

Wild dogs, also known as African hunting dogs or painted wolves, are extremely social, living and hunting together in packs of around ten individuals specialising in taking down medium-sized ruminants. The population of these animals have continued to decline through habitat loss, persecution and disease and they are now classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Watch a clip of wild dogs protecting their pups from BBC’s Dynasties:

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Main image: The stolen pups with the ‘Splash’ pack’s pups.