Written by: Animal Care Professional Ashley Gaia, Africa Team
Last year, ZooTampa at Lowry Park welcomed an exciting new species called the African painted dog. A male and female pair, Hatari and Layla, came to us from Zoo Miami in hopes that they would begin growing a family of their own. On October 1st, our hopes were met with the addition of seven beautiful, squirmy puppies. There are several reasons why these puppies are so special!
African painted dogs (Lycaon pictus) are genetically unique in the world of canids. One of the features that sets them apart from other canids is their feet, they have four toes per paw instead of five! They also have specially adapted carnassial teeth that help slice meat and bone more efficiently. All painted dogs have big round ears, a dark muzzle, and white tipped tails. The rest of the coat is mottled in splotches of ebony, white, and golden tans. Every dog has a unique pattern, just as unique as our finger prints!
Painted dog society is complex and cooperative. Packs range from around 6-12 individuals, however packs of 30-50 have been documented. Each pack has an alpha male and female, chosen by the pack for their ability to lead versus their size. The painted dog is one of the greatest predators in Africa. Working as a team, the pack brings down their prey, quickly fill their bellies and rush back to their dens. There, they will regurgitate some meat to feed any puppies or dogs that need extra care.
Currently, our own painted dog family is excelling at parenthood. Hatari quickly mastered his role of staying close to the den to be a literal “watch dog” while Layla is devoting all of her time into raising, and wrangling, their puppies inside their den. For the last month, animal care staff has been heavily feeding Hatari so he can supply food to his growing family. At this time, Layla is allowing the puppies to begin to explore the habitat little by little. The puppies are rapidly learning the rules of fair play, tumbling together and pouncing on sticks and leaves. When Layla sees the pups getting too excitable, she ushers them back into the den to calm down and nap. It won’t be long until the whole family is out exploring the habitat in full and playing together!
The birth of these puppies is critical, as African painted dogs are an endangered species. Threats such as habitat fragmentation, car strikes, diseases from domestic dogs, and illegal snares have diminished this species to around 6,000-7,000 individuals. Here at ZooTampa, we work closely with organizations in Africa that are fighting for the survival of wild painted dogs. We sell recycled snare wire sculptures in our gift shop, with the proceeds going to saving this incredible species. To learn more, join us at the painted dog habitat every day at 10:45am for our keeper chat, and help us on our mission to preserve and protect wildlife!