The name Painted Dog is derived from the Latin name for the species 'Lycaon pictus'. African Wild Dog or African Hunting Dog are the more commonly used names. As a child I knew them as Cape Hunting Dogs. Like many other southern African animals their name was prefixed with 'Cape' as the South African Cape was the first place in which they were seen and named by naturalists. The 'African Wild Dog' name came about during a time when most large predators were being purposefully exterminated. It gives the impression of a feral species, a vicious killer and an animal which does not need to be conserved. In truth these dogs are an ancient and unique species, not closely related to wolves, domestic dogs or jackals (or to hyaenas which are related to civets and mongooses). They are in serious need of protection and the use of the 'Painted Dog' name helps in this process and also gave me a wonderful expedition title!
Why did I chose Painted Dogs? I chose them because whenever I have seen them in the bush they have been the highlight of my trip. Almost everyone who goes on safari in southern Africa wants to see these dogs. They are highly endangered, highly nomadic and highly social. Those who don't know them often confuse them with spotted hyaenas but if you were to see them side by side you would never make this comparison. Hyaenas have a much heavier build, with a thickset neck, sloped back, short tail and (usually) a pattern of dark spots or mottled patches on their coats. The dogs are much lighter in build, slim and long legged with a flat back, long white-tipped tail, a dark muzzle, huge round ears and individually marked coats with brown, black & white markings.
In chosing the dogs for my expedition I also find it quite fitting that I am traveling to Hwange National Park to paint them, as this is where I saw my first wild pack of dogs in Africa. One dog, a male, had an injured back leg and was chased by a spotted hyaena who obviously saw his injury and thought that here was an easy meal. However the rest of the pack saw the hyaena and turned back to chase the hyaena off into the bushes. I found out recently that this pack are known as the "Mlesilonda" (the wounded ones) by the Painted Dog Conservation project staff. The dog with the injured leg was caught in a snare and PDC staff removed the snare and treated the leg.