These endangered canines closely resemble wolves in their pack-oriented social structure

 

 

While their big ears may be better to hear you with, African painted dogs aren’t close relatives of wolves. But these animals—also called African wild dogs or painted wolves—are a far cry from our domesticated best friends, too.

Roughly the same size as our familiar fidos, painted dogs run in packs six to 30 members deep. Barking orders to each other that sound more like chirp than ruff, these cunning canids team up to take down large prey such as zebra.

When it comes to rearing pups and sharing meals with sick, injured or old pack mates, African painted dogs show their softer side. Despite their nurturing nature, these animals have all but disappeared—only some 3,000 to 8,000 still call Africa home, down from the half million or so that roamed the continent a century ago.

Experts say that while habitat loss, illegal hunting and trapping and disease are problems for painted dogs, the public’s unfounded fear of these mottled mammals may be their biggest threat.

But help could arrive soon if the U.S. Congress approves the Great Cats and Rare Canids Act this year. The act would fund conservation efforts and support education programs in Africa that just may encourage humans to become this endangered dog’s best friend yet.

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