Tuesday 10 November 2009

Painting a picture of happiness in a time of sadness

Pittsburgh Zoo recently gained nine new additions when Vega, their 10-year-old female painted hunting dog (also known as the African wild dog), gave birth to a litter of pups. Unfortunately, Vega died a few days later, leaving her young in great jeopardy. It was discovered that Vega had died of a ruptured uterus, an unborn pup possibly contributing towards the fatal condition. The zoo had to decide whether to try and hand-raise the pups or contact local animal shelters to find a female dog that had recently given birth and was nursing her own pups.

A perfect candidate was found at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society – a mixed-breed named “Honey” had delivered her own six pups several weeks earlier and staff had just started weaning her pups so she was still able to nurse.

Happily, the pups and Honey took to each other almost immediately and the six males and three females are doing well.

Painted hunting dogs are endangered, with only 3,000 to 6,000 remaining in the wild, although there was once around as many as 500,000 individuals. The mortality rate for painted hunting dog pups is 50 percent, even with a healthy mother, and Pittsburgh Zoo is part of a conservation effort to protect them. Almost unheard of among social mammals, the painted hunting dog's social structure is a submission-based hierarchy, meaning whoever begs the most gets the most food instead of whomever is most aggressive.

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