To see one, much less 13, crossing a road is reason to park the car and soak it all in.
Take a closer look.
They belong to the elusive Nyamadhlovu pack, a tight-knit family that call Hwange National Park home. African painted dogs come by their name honestly seemingly painted in brilliant brushstrokes, dappled with white and tan and black.
Funny, you might expect there to be some gray in those coats, considering they’re thought to be the oldest living canine on the planet. We’re talking 40 million years millions of years older than even wolves, who many consider the direct ancestor of the modern-day dog.
But recent research suggests dogs and wolves both descended from common ancestors at least 27,000 years ago.
Although researchers still don’t agree on how exactly modern dogs became domesticated, African painted dogs are likely part of their ancient lineage.
But today, these dogs remain very much their own dog. In all their years on this planet, they’ve never been domesticated, instead wandering an ever-shrinking swathe of sub-Saharan Africa’s plains and woodlands.
Intensely social, they’re known to share their kills antelopes, wildebeests, even rats and they are uncommonly kind to the injured and elderly in their pack. Their telltale features include large rounded ears and just four toes on each paw, as opposed to domestic dogs who have five. But it’s unlikely you will ever get close enough to a painted dog to make that last distinction.
These animals are fading fast from the planet.
With just 6,600 painted dogs left, the species is squarely on the endangered list,according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
The main culprit? Human encroachment, according to the IUCN.
The group notes their “extreme sensitivity” to habitat fragmentation these dogs need vast spaces to roam. And that brings them into increasing conflict with farmers, who trap or kill the animals fearing for the safety of their livestock.
As a result, a species that has endured for millions of years may actually disappear in our lifetime.
Which is every reason to support a group like Painted Dog Conservation as it fights to preserve these animals in Hwange National Park, a final stronghold for a dog who has had many days on this Earth. And still has so many stories to tell.
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