Since the Brookfield Zoo is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the public has not been able to view the seven African painted dog (Lycaon pictus) puppies born there on Monday, January 13, A.D. 2020 when they were strong enough to be let into their outdoor habitat. Consequently, the Chicago Zoological Society (C.Z.S.) chose to have the pups make their public debut via the Brookfield Zoo’s “Bringing the Zoo to You” Facebook Live chat on Tuesday, April 28, A.D. 2020.
This is the first litter of pups for mother Ngala (pronounced “En-gala”). Previously, the puppies are behind the scenes bonding with Ngala. The five male and two female puppies gained access to their outdoor habitat for the first time on Friday, April 24, A.D. 2020 after the veterinarians determined they were ready. The C.Z.S. stated, “Animal care staff observed the puppies as they played and explored their new environment as well as curiously watched their next door neighbors—the zoo’s giraffe herd.”
Credit: Chicago Zoological Society Caption: The Chicago Zoological Society posted the “Bringing the Zoo to You: Painted Dog Pups” Facebook Live chat on its YouTube channel for the benefit of people who did not see it streaming live on Facebook. Raquel explains at the beginning of the video that “enrichment” (which she later clarifies in this case is shank bones) is being tossed to the African painted dog puppies from the rooftop of their habitat. Ngala’s sister, Salu, can also be seen in the video.
Each African painted dog has a unique pattern to its fur coat. They have never been domesticated.
They live in packs of six to twelve adults. In the wild, packs are nomadic. The pack members collectively care for pups together and care for old and sick members of the pack. Generally, only the alpha male and alpha female will breed.
They are seasonal breeders. A female can get pregnant once a year. The pregnancy lasts for about seventy days. A litter ranges in size from a few puppies to twenty puppies. One litter is born every year.
In the wild, in southern Africa, pups are born from late May to early June. However, in captivity, in the U.S.A., African painted dogs breed in the late summer, in August or September, with the result that births occur in the autumn. Obviously, this was not the case this time and in captivity African painted dogs have been born in every month of the year.
Ngala gave birth to this litter in a den box specifically designed for African painted dogs. When these puppies were born, their eyes were closed, their ears were curled up, and they were black-and-white. The Brookfield Zoo staff used a camera to ensure the puppies were healthy and nursing. Within their first month of life, their eyes opened, their ears uncurled, and they began to leave the den on brief excursions. After a month, some of their black fur began to change to the gold color for the familiar gold-and-black color pattern. They continued to nurse, but they also began to eat meat. Adults weigh between forty and seventy-five pounds and stand around thirty inches tall (at the shoulder).
An adult African painted dog can eat about nine pounds of meat per day. They prey on animals including hares, warthogs gazelles, antelopes, and wildebeests. When chasing down prey, they can reach speeds of up to thirty-five miles per hour. Sometimes, though, after they kill an animal, a larger carnivore, such as a lion or a hyena, will take the meat from them.
Raquel explained, “Here, at the zoo, our animals get zoo canine meat, that’s specially formulated for them; and in addition to that meat, we give them beef bones, like you saw; we give them bison bones; rabbit, and whole or partial carcasses that they can share as a group.” Occasionally, at Brookfield Zoo, the keepers use a zip line to lower carcasses to the African painted dogs.
Hundreds of thousands of African painted dogs used to live in Sub-Saharan Africa (which is to say south of the Sahara Desert), Raquel related to the audience. Today, they live in savannahs, grasslands, woodlands, and semi-arid places. Their numbers have dwindled due to over-hunting, disease, and loss of habitat due to farming, real estate development. There are fewer than 7,000 of them left in the wild in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Batswana, and South Africa. To protect them, some of them wear collars so they can break snare wires meant to catch antelopes. Some governments are creating wildlife corridors so the animals can travel from park to park.
In answer to a question from a viewer, Raquel explained African painted dogs have forty-two teeth, twenty on the top and twenty-two on the bottom, as with wolves. However, the layout is a bit different.
Another viewer asked if African painted dogs are related to hyenas. Raquel answered they are in the canine family, so they are closely related to wolves, coyotes, jackals, and domesticated dogs, unlike hyenas, which are more closely related to cats.
A third viewer asked if African painted dogs are an endangered species. Raquel answered that the African painted dog is the most endangered carnivore in southern Africa. In northern Africa, the Ethiopian wolf is in a similar position.
In answer to a question from a fourth viewer, who asked if zookeepers enter the (indoor habitat) with the African painted dogs, Raquel explained they are large carnivores, so zookeepers do not enter the indoor habitat with them. This is to say, the keepers are separated from the animals by stainless steel mesh. However, they do train the African painted dogs in certain husbandry behaviors. For example, they trained Ngala to do paws up behavior so they could see her belly when she was pregnant.
The C.Z.S. operates the Brookfield Zoo in west suburban Brookfield, Illinois on land that belongs to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. The breeding of the alpha male and alpha female was at the recommendation of the African Painted Dog Species Survival Plan (S.S.P.), which the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (A.Z.A.) administers. This and other S.S.P.s are programs under which accredited zoos and aquariums in North America make a cooperative effort for the management and conservation of an animal species. Currently, there are more than 200 African painted dogs in thirty-eight North American zoos accredited by the A.Z.A. The Brookfield Zoo is one of eight zoos to receive a breeding recommendation under the African Painted Dog S.S.P. for this year.
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