Painted Dog Pups Entertain

They are amazing, and their story of survival at the Pittsburgh Zoo, while well-known, bears repeating. This photo is from Thursday’s media day at the African Painted Dogs exhibit. It was only their second day out, and watching them hop, shy away from shadows of birds, and tumble down the hill–all as a pack–was so rewarding for all the keepers who had helped them survive all these months. They had made their actual debut outside the day before, and explored for two hours.

This is one of the photos from Thursday taken by the Zoo’s talented photographer, Paul Selvaggio. You can see in the background that the observation deck was packed. I can’t imagine what it will be this week-end. Someone told me there must have been 10 thousand Zoo visitors on Good Friday. And I can’t think of a better way to spend the week-end than check out these magnificent creatures. Many call them the most efficient predators in Africa. But they are in dire straits–critically endangered, with only 3,000 left in the wild. Habitat encorachment, domestic dog disease, animal trading, poaching snares, and ranchers have all contributed to their situation. (another Paul photo) The Zoo has partnered with a fascinating zoologist in Zimbabwe named Greg Rasmussen, who is a strong advocate for the species. I have interviewed him on one of his visits here. You can read more about his conservation efforts with The Painted Dog Conservation Project at It is hard to believe that we are in danger of losing these animals that once numbered over half a million in sub-Saharan Africa.

And we almost lost our residents after they were born to the female, Vega, October 25. She died two days, later, despite initially looking like she was handling all 9 pups sucessfully. So Asst. Mammal Curator Karen Vacco, and other keepers joined with the Western Pennsylvania Society, and found this amazing mixed breed shelter dog, who had just weaned her pups. She was a perfect surrogate, and five of the nine pups survived. (more photos by Paul). Karen told me Thursday that they believe the use of a surrogate domestic dog is unprecedented in saving a litter. The pups were then weaned, and hand raised, while Honey, the hero substitute Mom, was adopted by a teenager,  Marissa Smail ,and her family. Marissa has been deeply involved with zoo educational projects, and is in love with the Painted Dogs. Here is a better picture of Honey enjoying her new home.

And here are  the pups at three months, the end of January, inside the Dog exhibit, safe from the frigid weather .

They don’t bark, but vocalize in high-pitched chirps. They can run 30 miles per hour for nearly 30 minutes (that is what makes them such great hunters, combined with their highly sophisticated pack cooperation). Their social structure is so complex, that they care for their sick and injured, to try to keep the whole pack healthy. And the entire pack cares for the pups of the lead male and female.

By the way, the two adult males, Draco and Puck–father and uncle of the pups, have been moved to the Oglebay Zoo in Wheeling. Since there is no mother to protect them, the Zoo did not want to take the chance that the pups and the adults might not blend well. The adults are being lovingly welcomed by a female at Oglebay, whose companion had died.


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