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Aberdeen research on African wild dog featured in new Encyclopaedia Britannica

Date: 24 August 1999
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Pioneering research into the African wild dog Lycaon pictus, which was first published last year by two Aberdeen scientists, has been featured in the prestigious new 1999 Encyclopaedia Britannica Book of the Year.

The article, which features the studies of Dr Martyn Gorman and Professor John Speakman of the University of Aberdeen’s Department of Zoology, and Dr Gus Mills and Cobus Raath of the Kruger National Park, originally appeared in Nature magazine in January 1998. The front cover of that edition of the magazine also featured a spectacular montage of wild dog photographs taken by Dr Gorman.

The 1999 Britannica Book of the Year is the annual review of major events of the previous year. The Aberdeen paper was one of just five articles included in the Zoology section of the book.

The research, carried out by Dr Gorman, a conservation biologist, and John Speakman dealt with the African wild dog, which is critically endangered with just 5,000 animals remaining in the wild. In today’s Africa, wild dogs flourish only where there are few spotted hyaena, probably because hyaenas act as ‘kleptoparasites’, stealing vital food from the dogs.

The Aberdeen scientists have shown in detail why wild dogs are so vulnerable to the theft of food by hyaenas. Using the double-labelled water technique of measuring rates of energy expenditure, they found that compared to other animals wild dogs use huge amounts of energy each day. This is because their method of hunting is an extremely demanding activity – the dogs burn 25 times more calories hunting than they do when resting.

This high cost of hunting makes the dogs more vulnerable to food theft. If the hyaenas steal just 25% of kills, then worn-out dogs would have to put in more than eight hours of overtime a day to make up for the lost calories by catching new prey.

The Aberdeen scientists are delighted to have had their research highlighted in this way. Dr Gorman said:

“It is always satisfying to do research that is not only excellent science, but which is also of value in the conservation of such an endangered and charismatic species as the African wild dog.

“We were honoured and delighted when our paper was published in Nature, the world’s leading scientific journal, and it really is the cherry on the cake to see it featured in the Britannica Book of the Year.”

Professor Whitfield Gibbons, Editor of the Encyclopaedia, said that he faces difficulties each year in selecting which advances in zoology are more important than others.

“The work Dr Gorman and his colleagues carried out was appealing because of the combination of field research, good science and its applicability to world-wide conservation issues,” he said.

“The research also showed the complex interaction among biological components and the environment, a principle we are all aware of but sometimes have difficulty in presenting in such a coherent manner.”



Further information

Dr Martyn Gorman, Department of Zoology  (01224) 272863

Alison Ramsay on telephone +44 (0)1224-273778 or email