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Category — Painted dogs

Dog Log: Chapter 8 – A Whole New World for the Boys

Luke in crate.

Luke during crate training.

As some of you may have noticed on your recent visit to the zoo, the male painted dog puppies are no longer here. On November 11, our six males, Oswald, Riddler, Alfred, Luke, Hugo and Bruce, were moved to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. This move was recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals. Typically, when you have a stable alpha pair, painted dogs stay in their family pack until they are two years old so that they can see another litter raised and learn how to be great parents or helpers in the future. Unfortunately, with the passing of our alpha male, we had to make this move before our juvenile males reached breeding age.  In their new home, the boys will be rotated with spotted hyena and viewable to visitors throughout park operating hours.

To prepare for a move like this can take weeks or months of training. The dogs have to be taught to break from their natural inclination to stay together as a pack and enter crates individually. Getting them comfortable being separate and being in a smaller space takes a lot of work and patience. The first step is to just let them see the crate, touch it, smell it and let them have access to it with both ends open so they can explore in and around it. Next, we would place the crate in a doorway that they have to walk through. Again, this just gets them used to going in and out of it. Once they are used to it as part of their holding, we put one door on the end so that we can ask them to come into it to get treats. Keepers secure the crate to the wall with the crate flush to the doorway, and then ask the dogs to come in to take snacks through the mesh in the crate door. It didn’t take long for the boys to be comfortable being in the crates. The younger dogs, especially those that have never traveled in a crate before, tend to do better since they have no prior knowledge of the experience. We only use their favorite snacks like beef heart and chunk meat to capture this behavior. Due to the time we were able to spend conditioning them, all 6 dogs were crated and loaded on the transport truck in 40 minutes on the day of their departure. The boys did such a great job!

The week before they were scheduled to go out, two keepers from Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park traveled to Cincinnati to meet the dogs and their keepers (including me). We discussed the complexity of their social structure, husbandry, personality traits and behaviors specific to the pack they would be escorting to Florida. The keepers, Melaina and Heather, also observed crate training sessions and familiarized themselves with how we get the dogs to take their monthly heart worm preventative.

After a 14-hour drive, the boys arrived safely and were unloaded into their new home. The 2 lovely Disney keepers let us know as soon as they got there and have been sending updates on them every couple of days since their arrival. Even though we were sad to see them go, we’re happy that these special animals will have the opportunity to inspire the millions of visitors that visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. With a much larger audience, it is my hope that Alfred, Oswald, Riddler, Luke, Hugo and Bruce will excite more people to care about this species and their plight in the wild. For the time being, Selina, Ivy, Lucy and Quinn will be coming into their own here in Cincinnati under the watchful eye of their mother, Imara.

The boys were introduced to their new environment earlier this week!  See how they’re doing in the Kilimanjaro Safaris savanna.

The boys in their new exhibit.

The boys in their new exhibit.

December 9, 2015   1 Comment

Dreaming of Africa and a Future in the Wild for African Painted Dogs

The pups are out! The pups are out! It’s been a long time waiting for the weather to break so the African painted dog pups could come outside. For the past few months, only their keepers were allowed to access the holding area. As soon as the rest of us employees heard the pups were finally out, many of us made a beeline for the exhibit like giddy schoolchildren on a field trip!

"What are you doing down there, Mom?" (Photo: DJJAM)

“What are you doing down there, Mom?” (Photo: DJJAM)

As I sat and marveled at the antics of our 10 boisterous, playful pups exploring their outdoor yard for the first time, my thoughts wandered to what it would be like to actually see painted dogs in the wild. I’ve been fortunate to travel to Africa a few times—once to lead an Earth Expeditions course in Namibia, another time to lead a course in Kenya, and also to pick up my daughter whom we adopted from Ethiopia. Each time, I experienced amazing landscapes and wildlife from hippos to rhinos to lions, but never did I encounter painted dogs. This isn’t surprising considering the African painted dog is one of the most endangered carnivores in Africa.

If I were to travel to Africa with the goal of seeing painted dogs, Ruaha National Park and the region surrounding it in Tanzania would be the place to go. Not only does the third largest population of painted dogs live there, it’s also the home base of the Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP), a conservation program that the Zoo supports.  RCP works with local communities to ensure the survival of carnivores and people in the region.

Ruaha landscape (Photo: Marcus Adames)

Ruaha landscape (Photo: Marcus Adames)

As it happened, the same day the pups first went out on exhibit, we also had a visit from RCP’s Director, Amy Dickman, who updated us on the latest news on the project. Amy is phenomenal and a very charismatic and inspiring leader, so much so that she was one of three international finalists for the prestigious Tusk Conservation Award last fall. This award recognizes individuals who have undertaken outstanding, inspirational conservation work throughout Africa. Although Amy did not win the award (this time), she did get to have afternoon tea with Prince William and it generated a lot of attention for the project, including this fabulous short film.

Amy Dickman and her team meets with the Barabaig tribe

Amy Dickman and her team meets with the Barabaig tribe

As mentioned in the film, Amy has done a fantastic job winning the trust and participation of the local Barabaig people. It used to be one of the few ways to gain status and wealth in the tribe was to kill lions, but that’s changing. RCP has found a way to provide tangible benefits of protecting carnivores to the community. RCP provides education scholarships and materials, veterinary supplies and health care clinics, and those villages that can show they have the most wildlife in their area receive the greater rewards.

How exactly do they determine which areas have the most wildlife? It’s ingenious, really. RCP has started giving villagers their own camera traps and training them how to set up and manage them. For each predator or prey species captured on camera, they receive a certain number of points – 2,000 points for an eland, 3,000 for a hyena, 4,000 for a lion, 5,000 for a painted dog, and so on. And if the picture has a whole pack of painted dogs in it like the one below, they get 5,000 points for each individual dog!

African painted dogs in Ruaha

African painted dogs in Ruaha

Villagers are now more motivated to find ways to coexist with carnivores. Instead of killing carnivores to keep them from attacking their livestock, for example, they are building better bomas, or corrals, and using guard dogs to prevent depredation.

Puppies that will grow into great big guard dogs

Puppies that will grow into great big guard dogs

In just five years, Amy’s work has resulted in a 60% decline in livestock depredation, a significant rise in people recognizing benefits from wildlife, and most importantly, an 80% decline in carnivore killing. Amazing! As RCP looks to the future, I hope the Zoo continues and strengthens its relationship with the project.

As for me, I may never see African painted dogs roaming the African savannah (though I’m not giving up hope), but knowing that we support great programs like RCP makes me optimistic about their future in the wild. For now, I am content to watch our pups trip over their paws and grow into their giant ears here at the Zoo. I hope you will join me!

"My ears are bigger than yours!" (Photo: DJJAM)

“My ears are bigger than yours!” (Photo: DJJAM)

p.s. The Zoo sponsors one of RCP’s field cameras. In return, RCP posts images taken by our Cincinnati Zoo Cam on a dedicated Facebook page; like the page to follow along!


April 20, 2015   2 Comments

Keeper Dog Log: Painted Dog Pups On The Move

Annnnd…. they’re off!

Imara and Brahma certainly have their paws full now! The puppies are on the move and going on new adventures outside of the nest box for a couple minutes at a time. They have greater mobility at this point so they are much more active and coordinated. Their ears have unfurled and their eyes have opened and now they have places to go! The puppies seem to be well within the range for normal development.

Since the puppies are more mobile now, it’s interesting to see what Brahma and Imara do with all of the little ones waddling around. What is really cool to see, is that the pups put themselves away. When they are finished exploring or bugging mom and dad, it’s like a puppy parade back into the box.

The first time keepers observed them coming out of the box, Brahma seemed a little shell shocked. He seemed a little overwhelmed and didn’t look like he knew what to do. You would often find him standing guard between the two dens so that the puppies stayed in one area. Now that he has gotten the hang of it, he has been observed greeting and getting down for the pups. Meanwhile, Imara puts her face at their level, play bowing and greeting them. They swarm around her like little bees, crawling over one another to get to her. These interactions, between the parents and the puppies, are extremely important. The behaviors we have seen, like the play bow and the licking of muzzles, solidifies the bonding between all of the dogs. Painted Dogs are very social creatures and these relationships keep the pack unified and successful.

There are still many changes to come. In a week or so, their beautiful yellow color will appear, making them even more unique in their appearance. They will be able to consume regurgitated food from mom and dad and they will also start spending more time away from the box. The last couple of weeks have been really exciting to watch the puppies grow and play. As the pups reach these very critical milestones, we will keep you updated on their progress.

February 4, 2015   3 Comments