The birth of eight rare African wild dog pups has been caught on ‘den cams’ at Chester Zoo.
It is the first time the endangered animals have been born at the Cheshire-based zoo.
Keepers spotted mum K’mana going into labour shortly after 11:30am on Sunday, November 19 and watched on remotely via CCTV as she gave birth to her first pup at 11:42am.
The last of the litter arrived at around 6pm.
Also known as painted dogs because of the beautiful multicoloured patterning on their fur, they are supreme predators, working together to bring down prey many times their size.
However, despite their fearsome reputation, the animals are one of Africa’s most threatened carnivores - listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Red List of Threatened Species.
Team manager of carnivores at the zoo Dave Hall said: “Painted dogs are incredibly impressive, beautiful animals and the pups are hugely significant new arrivals. They are first to be bred at the zoo bringing important new blood to the international breeding programme for the species- an initiative which is providing a safety net population for the endangered animals.
“We estimate it will be another five or six weeks until the pups are taken out of their underground den and into the open by their mum, K’mana, as their eyes remain closed for a number of weeks after birth. For the time being, carnivore experts here are excitedly keeping a close eye on their progress via remote cameras. K’mana, so far, seems to be doing an excellent job – making sure her new charges are getting sufficient milk.”
Painted dogs, which are usually found in isolated regions of eastern and southern Africa, take their name from their irregular mottled coat, which features patches of yellow, black, brown and white fur.
These patterns confuse prey by making a pack look larger than it is.
Mike Jordan, the zoo’s collections director, added: “Painted dogs are now one of Africa’s most endangered carnivores, due to the huge territories they need to survive, much larger than most other carnivores. There may now be fewer than 1,500 breeding African wild dogs left.
“They have been severely persecuted across the continent for many decades. In the early parts of the 20th century, colonial settlers exterminated African wild dog populations in many areas simply because their method of pack hunting was seen as unsporting.
“As human populations have increased in Africa the numbers of painted dogs have dropped steeply as their habitat is converted to farmland and villages expanded. “This puts them in direct conflict with local people, where they are hunted and poisoned for killing livestock and exposed to infectious diseases transferred from domestic dogs.
“Time is running out for them but, through our long-standing conservation support in Africa, we’re working very hard to change this.”
Chester Zoo has been a very important part of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust African Wild Dog Programme in Tanzania for over a decade, working to return healthy and genetically diverse populations of painted dogs back to the wild.
Zoo experts have helped conservationists working in Africa to re-establish viable populations of painted dogs, bred in special protected breeding areas in Tanzania, in two national parks – Tsavo and Mkomazi.
The zoo’s Act for Wildlife conservation campaign is raising vital funds to protect painted dogs from extinction in Africa.
Visit www.actforwildlife.org.uk for more information or to text AFRI03 £5 to 70070 to donate to the conservation charity’s campaign.