Friday, July 21, 2006

Painted wolves move to park

Merseyside is helping to save a rare hunting dog from extinction.

Larry Neild - Daily Post

KNOWSLEY Safari Park has gone to the dogs - to help save one of the world's most endangered canines. Twelve African Hunting Dogs - also known as African Wild Dogs, Cape Hunting Dogs or Painted Dogs - are happily settling into their new home on Merseyside.

The dogs are perfectly built for chasing prey, with light bodies, long legs and massive jaws. They have large oval ears to combat the heat, especially useful as they settle into their new home in sun-scorched Merseyside.

Visitors to the park can now see the only breeding pack of the very rare dogs in the north west, after the park acquired them from Port Lympne Wild Animal Park near Hythe in Kent.

The Latin name for the dog - lycoan pictus - literally means painted wolf which reflects its colourful coat of brown, black, yellow and white patches. Rather like fingerprints in humans, no two dogs have exactly the same pattern on their fur.

In the wild, the dogs roam over large areas of the grasslands and savanna plains of East Africa. They are exclusively carnivorous, eating everything from rodents and hares up to medium-sized antelope and gazelle and in some cases even killing larger prey like wildebeest and zebra.

African Hunting Dogs have an amazing social structure, living in packs of six to 20 animals. Led by a dominant (alpha) pair, it is usually only this pair that breed, with litters averaging about 10 pups. However, all the remaining - mostly male -members of the pack help to raise the pups, babysitting and bringing food to the youngsters.

There is a high degree of social interaction between pack members, who communicate with each other using calls and body postures. They have elaborate greeting rituals, accompanied by twittering and whining, and take part in an unusual bonding ceremony before starting a hunt.

The park's general manager, David Ross, is delighted with the new acquisition. He said: "The dogs will prove to be one of our most exciting new attractions for years. Given that it's not too hot they are very active animals and I think visitors will really enjoy watching their behaviour and the interesting way they work together as a pack."

Mr Ross also expects the dogs to breed at Knowsley, which is vitally important because of their endangered status in Africa. He explained: "The dogs have suffered a catastrophic drop in numbers in recent years and the latest estimates suggest there are only around 3,000 left in the wild.

"Because they attack livestock they have been widely hunted by man, but they have also been affected by diseases like canine distemper and by reductions in the populations of their prey. In some parts of Africa they are now close to extinction, which is why we are delighted to be joining forces with other zoos and parks around the world to breed them in captivity."

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