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What Shall We Call The Dog?

3 min read

Updated 01 August 2021

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Picture of Chris McIntyre

By Chris McIntyre

Managing Director
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*A version of this article originally appeared in the August 2021 Bush Telegraph newsletter. You can read our recent newsletters and sign-up to receive these in your inbox on our Bush Telegraph newsletter page.

We all recognise the importance of good branding: catchy, clever, relevant. The names we hear, from baby announcements to everyday objects, are fundamental to creating connections and eliciting our emotions. Optics matter. But sometimes even good branding can get better; just ask the marketing teams at BackRub (which is now called Google), Cadabra (now Amazon) and Brad’s Drink (now Pepsi). And so it is with the names of wildlife.

When the BBC launched its ‘Dynasties’ documentary series in 2018, David Attenborough introduced the world to the so-called ‘Painted Wolf’. Many Africa afficionados raised an eyebrow at the title. Ecologist Bryony Blades also tuned in to the unusual word choice and set about investigating the conservation implications of the animal’s common name.

By conducting surveys with the general public and studying scientific journal entries, Bryony was able to do better than simply observe the debate: she came up with more quantifiable evidence. Some scientists were concerned that the name African wild dog had negative associations with strays or feral domestic dogs. Her first ‘willingness-to-pay survey’ showed no significant difference in donors’ readiness to support the conservation of wild dogs, regardless of the name. When it came to parting with money, whether it was called an African wild dog, an African hunting dog, a Cape hunting dog or a painted wolf, respondents across six continents were apparently not influenced by the name.

Results from her second, more nuanced, survey, were somewhat different. Designed to unravel respondents’ first, subconscious response to a word, a simple word-association game asked people to pair the terms ‘hunting’, ‘wolf’, ‘wild’, ‘dog’ and ‘painted’ with any word of their choosing. The results were then judged to be positive, negative or neutral. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most positive reactions came from ‘painted’ and dog’.

So while rebranding to ‘Painted Dogs’ may not generate more income for vital conservation work, the linguistics does affect perception. If swapping the connotations of danger and feral brutality for those of beauty, love and loyalty (at least in the English-speaking world) ultimately helps protect an incredible, endangered species, then perhaps it is worth the change? It turns out there really is a lot in a name, and the dogs – by whatever name – need every chance they can get…

To visit Expert Africa’s current favourite dog dens, check out Botswana’s Lagoon Camp and Kenya’s Laikipia Wilderness, both of which are having fantastic double-dog sightings at the moment. Guests at Lagoon Camp are currently witnessing some especially exciting and rare dog activity. Not far from camp, two females from the same pack have recently had pups in dens barely 100m apart. This is very unusual as it is almost exclusively the alpha female of a pack which has the pups. In recent days (the end of July 2021) the pups have started to explore around the first den, while their younger cousins are just beginning to take peeks out of the second. What an absolute treat to see!

Meanwhile at Laikipia Wilderness, two packs once again began denning in the area in June. Word on the ground suggests that some super sightings and interactions are likely between August and December, when the pups emerge from their dens and start exploring. It’s the perfect time to visit.

If you’ve been inspired and want to find out more, give us a call or enquire now to speak to an expert.


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