Award winning Yorkshire Wildlife Park is celebrating the birth of a litter of rare wild hunting dogs, giving conservationists hope that one of the most endangered canine species on the planet can be saved from extinction.
The African Painted Dog puppies were born four weeks ago and until now have been hidden safely underground with their mother Thabo. Thabo ignored the purpose built house and followed her natural instincts to dig the den in the woodland in their reserve so that she could hide her pups safely underground. Staff at the Park could only watch and wait for the puppies to emerge.
But several of the shy pups finally emerged from their den at the weekend for the first time, giving staff a fleeting glimpse.
The births are particularly significant after a sharp decline in Painted Dog numbers in the wild. In the past decade, wild populations have dropped from 500,000 to 5,000.
“Painted dogs are heading for extinction so these births are crucial to their future,” said YWP Animal Collection Manager Simon Marsh.
“This litter is the best early Christmas present we could have wished for. We can’t be sure how may puppies there are yet, but slowly one by one they are coming up to have a fleeting look at the world. Some lucky visitors have spotted them at the entrance to the den but it will be another 2 – 4 weeks though before they will all be seen out.”Simon Marsh, Animal Collections Manager
Yorkshire Wildlife Park is part of a European breeding programme aimed at bolstering numbers. It invested heavily in a 8,000 square meter reserve for its three breeding dogs in 2014 which was specifically designed as a breeding facility. Soon after a male, Nefari, was introduced.
Once distributed widely across most of Africa, Painted Dogs, also known as African Wild Dogs and Cape Hunting Dogs, have been persecuted by man to the edge of extinction. Many packs no longer have viable breeding populations. Human encroachment has drastically reduced their range and their numbers.
Because of habitat loss, development and other factors, Africa’s once-great herds of grazing animals are now restricted to scattered populations in parks and reserves. Loss of prey has meant a struggle for survival and many Painted Dogs are also illegally snared, shot, and poisoned by farmers.
The YWP Painted Dog reserve was created to mirror their environment in the wild. They are found in savannah grasslands and woodlands and love playing in waterholes. The reserve has a variety of habitats for them to explore and although they have a structure to sleep in they are free to dig their own dens and have caves to shelter in.
YWP and the Yorkshire Wildlife Park Foundation charity have been at the forefront of Painted Dog conservation in the UK and supports Fauna & Flora International (FFI), an organisation working to protect one of the last remaining strongholds of lions and wild dogs in the 42,000 square km Niassa Reserve in Mozambique.
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