Small pack size imposes a trade-off between hunting and pup-guarding in the painted hunting dog Lycaon pictus
Courchamp F., Rasmussen GSA., Macdonald DW.
The painted hunting dog or African wild dog, Lycaon pictus, is one of the most endangered large carnivores in Africa, with extinction predicted within a few decades if their dramatic decline is not stopped. It has recently been hypothesized that because of their constraining need for helpers, group size was of major importance in obligate cooperative breeding species, and that the resulting likely existence of a threshold number of adults could create an Allee effect, increasing the group extinction risk. One example where the importance for a critical number of adults may have major repercussions for painted hunting dogs concerns baby-sitting, or pup-guarding, a behavior typical of obligate cooperative breeders. We propose that, as forgoing this behavior is costly because pup guards have the potential to decrease pup mortality, its use is costly too, especially in small packs, because helpers are strongly needed for their cooperative foraging (hunting, protecting the kill and bringing back food to the pups). We present a simple model showing how pup-guarding imposes a cost because it implies that less food per hunt is brought back to more individuals at the den. We complete these analyses with empirical tests of the effect of pack size on the probability of pup-guarding, from field data from the Hwange population in Zimbabwe. Our model, as well as our 5 years of empirical data, both suggest a critical threshold at a size of about five individuals.