Warning: These African dog pups are cuter than these pictures give them credit for.
An Indiana zoo has spent the last couple of months caring for some new special residents, three endangered African painted dog puppies born in September.
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While the pups aren’t necessarily like the domesticated dogs, we all know and love, they are part of the dog family, a communications spokesperson with The Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, about 150 miles from Indianapolis shared with USA Today. They are kind of related to dogs the same way wolves and foxes are, similar but not the same.
They were, however, raised by a domesticated dog.
The pups’ surrogate mother is a golden retriever named Kassy, who got to the zoo with a new litter of puppies and plenty of milk to share, an announcement from The Potawatomi Zoo reads.
It might be a little while before the public will have the opportunity to see them in person, but you can catch a glimpse of them below.
Here’s what we know about them.
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What makes the African painted dog rare?
African painted dogs also known as African wild dogs or wolves are native to sub-Saharan Africa. There are less than 7,000 adult painted dogs in the wild.
“Their overall population is declining, and they are considered endangered due to human-wildlife conflict, habitat fragmentation, and disease,” according to a news release by The Potawatomi Zoo.
Here are some other fun facts:
- They live in large family groups with strong social bonds led by a dominant male and female
- The preferred prey of the pack are antelopes and other ungulates
- Unlike most African predators, they hunt during the day
- More than 60% of their hunts end in success, making them Africa’s most successful hunters
- They’re known to use complex vocalizations to coordinate hunts and communicate with other members of their pack.
- Only the dominant female in the pack produces puppies
- Litters may be made up of as many as 16 pups
What are their names?
The Potawatomi Zoo has held off naming the pups for now but have been identified by colors zoo staff used to track them after they were born. The trio’s names, or semi-permanent identity markers are Blue, Red and Orange.
They aren’t the only African painted dogs the zoo is caring for: The pups’ mother and father, Bleu and Maurice, are also being cared for by the zoo.
“The puppies are now 11 weeks old. They’re healthy, rambunctious, and incredibly cute. We’re looking forward to getting them in their own space where they can learn to be painted dogs from their family,” the zoo wrote on Instagram Wednesday.
Why did a golden retriever have to raise the pups?
Within 12 hours after Bleu giving birth on Sept. 28, zoo staff realized she was not caring for the pups the way she should have.
Neither was Maurice, who was following her lead. They could tell the pack would not be able to successfully raise the litter of eight puppies.
African painted dogs usually live in large packs with unique social dynamics and vocalizations in the wild, according to the zoo.
The success of a litter depends on how well the pack works together, relying on all adult dogs help to feed and raise the pups. Animal care staff consulted with a team of zoo experts to figure out how to proceed, ultimately making the decision to intervene and hand-raise the litter of puppies. The zoo experts also recommended they find a surrogate domestic dog to nurse the pups instead of bottle-feeding them given how important it is for painted dog pups to be raised in a canine social structure.
It only took a few hours to find Kassy, who got to the zoo a day after the pups were born. She immediately accepted the painted dog puppies and began to nurse and care for them like they were her own, the zoo shared.
Despite the extra care and attention zoo staff put in over the first four weeks of the puppies’ lives, five of the painted dogs weren’t strong enough to survive.
Will the pups ever be reunited with their birth parents?
Maybe, but its unclear when or how that will occur.
The plan was to reintegrate the pups with their family, but the adult painted dogs didn’t display “suitable positive interest in the puppies,” according to the zoo.
The zoo is working on building a home for the three painted dog pup siblings next to their family members so they can learn how to behave like painted dogs. Growing up near family will help instill natural painted dog behaviors.
The pups might either be integrated with the Potawatomi Zoo pack or moved to another AZA-accredited facility where they might raise families of their own later on.
“It has been an emotionally exhausting and challenging journey for the team, but it is the Zoo’s mission to work toward the preservation of wild species. Sometimes the journey is smooth and sometimes it takes extraordinary measures. These three healthy, active pups are just the start of this story, and the Zoo hopes to share more positive updates of their milestones in the future,” according to a statement from the zoo.