There's a new NOVA PBS special that's not to be missed that explores the vital role that predators like the African wild dog play in the health and balance of an ecosystem. This amazing film from NOVA and HHMI Tangled Bank Studios will premiere on day one PBS on Wednesday, October 14th at 9 p.m. ET / 8C on PBS.
As told by Michael C. Hall, The fear factor of nature provides exclusive access to the Gorongosa restoration project in Mozambique, and shows how this monumental effort provides an important new home for endangered wild dogs, helps restore one of Africa's great national parks, and re-illuminates the role of fear in wildlife ecosystems. It's real-time field research that could decide whether the Gorongosa ecosystem is surviving or if the spirals are spiraling out of control.
With long-term and exclusive access, this film introduces viewers to the great experiment of Gorongosa National Park, from the arrival of the wild dogs on a special charter flight to their release into the wild and their (adorable) large litter of puppies. The film explores the questions scientists have, including whether they will band together into a cohesive pack and reclaim an area that their species roamed many decades ago. Will they succumb to hidden dangers lurking in the park? And after decades of the good life without predators, will their prey be scared at all?
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Pile of African wild dog pups in Gorongosa National Park. Photo credit: Gorongosa Media / Brett Kuxhausen
The scientists also fear that the pack could leave the unfenced park and travel to the surrounding communities. This is a problem Gorongosa is already facing with elephants crossing the river to feed on nutritious crops from local farmers. The park uses innovative solutions – including surprisingly effective beehive fences – to keep the elephants at bay, but they highlight the challenges of an effort of this magnitude. They create the blueprints using ecological knowledge from other places and breaking new ground in their understanding of complicated ecosystem dynamics. "It's a living laboratory," says Princeton University ecologist Robert Pringle, "in which we can bring our science to market and try to find out the rules by which ecosystems operate."
Check out this fascinating program, The fear factor of nature premiered Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 9 p.m. ET / 8C on PBS and will be available for online streaming and the PBS video app.
More about the African wild dog
African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), also called painted dog, or Cape houndis a member of the canine family and the largest indigenous dog in Africa. Unfortunately, this species has been listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List since 1990. They are fascinating animals that are very social, live in packs and, unlike other carnivores, the females and not the males are sexually separated from the birth pack once mature (to protect against incest, which can destroy a species). They live in permanent packs of two to 27 adults and one-year-old pups. Like other canids, the African wild dog spits out food for its young, but this action is extended to adults too, so they are central to their social life.
The African wild dog produces more pups than any other canid. The litters contain around six to 16 pups with an average of 10, which suggests that a single female can produce enough pups to form a new pack each year.
Interestingly, African wild dog packs have high male to female ratios. This is mainly because the males usually stay in the pack while the female offspring disperse, and this is aided by a changing sex ration in successive litters. The first-born litter of bitches contains a higher proportion of males, the second litter is half-and-half, and the subsequent litters are aimed at females, with this trend increasing as the females age. As a result, the earlier litters provide stable hunters, while the higher degree of spread among the females prevents a pack from growing too large.
African wild dog hunts by silently approaching prey and then chasing them at speeds of up to 41 mph for 10 to 60 minutes. Puppies old enough to eat solid foods are a top priority in kills and will even eat before the dominant pair. child adult dogs help feed and protect the pups.