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The Painted Hunting Dog is one of the most critically endangered carnivores in Africa, with approximately 5000 individuals extant. The early Holocene species population is estimated at about one half million, and the prehistoric range covered virtually all of the non-desert, non-jungle area of sub-Saharan Africa. In the last several decades, the habitat of L. Pictus has become severely fragmented due to expansion of the human population in Africa, and numbers have dwindled. The species has been historically termed "African Wild Dog", which name is declining in usage, due to pejorative aspects of such a name.
There are five acknowledged subspecies: L.p. pictus (Southern Africa), L.p. lupinus (East Africa), L.p. manguensis (West and Central Africa), L.p. saharicus (Sahara) and L.p. somalicus (Horn of Africa). Based upon the detailed geographic analysis in the following, the last three subspecies can be clearly considered critically endangered due to the extremely low populations in their sub-regions and the ongoing severe threats in those areas.
Until as recently as the 1970s L. pictus had a broad distribution within sub-Saharan Africa. Presently Botswana has one of the most robust populations with an estimated 150 individuals in the northeast part of the Okavango Delta, encompassing the eastern part of the Moremi Game Reserve. The area is approximately 3,000 square kilometres. This region is protected not just by paper legislation, but due to the care and concern of the Botswanan people. In Namibia, approximately 200 wild dogs are estimated to have existed by 2008, with the population dying off by about ten percent per annum. Virtually all of the sightings are in Tsumkwe East and West Caprivi. Livestock grazing and poaching account for the majority of the decline of the species in Namibia.
There is little sexual dimorphism in this species with adults attaining body mass to 36 kg and lengths to 110 cm plus tail extension to an additional 40 cm.(Novak) Pelage exhibits a short fur of mottled yellow, red, black and white patches. This animal is lean and muscular, built for running endurance. Each foot manifests four toes. Characteristically the bushy tail has a white tip. Ears are ovoid and sizable.
The pack chooses a den location which affords a good burrow, but which also ideally has some shade to protect pups from the harsh sun when they first begin to venture from the den. This shade also helps to mitigate against high burrow temperatures in the hot season. A typical burrow landform might consist of loamy soil which was colonised by termites. After construction of the termite mound to pulverise and soften the soil, an aardvark may have used this locale for rooting. A culmination of decades of earthwork by these two pioneer species will then be the formation of a more intricate den by the Painted Hunting Dog pack, building upon the previous subsurface work of others.