Brookfield Zoo hosts African Painted Dog Conference

Guests can see African painted dogs at Brookfield Zoo. The species is critically endangered due to habitat loss, human encroachment (road fatalities, distemper and rabies outbreaks) and persecution from humans who perceive them as a threat to their livestock. This week the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages the zoo, is hosting the African Painted Dog Conference. More than 50 experts from around the world are gathering at the zoo to discuss conservation efforts for the painted dog and to share husbandry and care expertise with colleagues. (Photo: Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society)

May 7, 2014 12:10:57 PM PDT
African painted dogs are some of the most critically endangered animals on the planet, but there is hope for saving these wild creatures. This week conservationists, field biologists and more are meeting at the Brookfield Zoo for the African Painted Dog Conference, hosted by the Chicago Zoological Society. The goal of the conference is to improve conservation efforts, share husbandry and care expertise and save the African painted dog from extinction.

"We're trying to save the African painted dog," said Bill Zeigler, senior vice president of the Brookfield Zoo. "It's dwindling in numbers to about 3,500 to about 4,000 animals. That's all that's left."

The Brookfield Zoo houses five African painted dogs. They look similar to pets, but are not very gentle at all. In fact they are wild animals and pack hunters, which has made them the enemy of farmers and ranchers in their native lands.

"They're not very well-liked in Africa," said Amy Robert, Brookfield Zoo curator of mammals. "They're huge victims of snares which indiscriminately kill animals. They're also persecuted by farmers and ranchers. They're hit by cars."

North American zoos currently house 115 African painted dogs, which is good news for the survival of the species, but the situation in Africa is just the opposite. In the wild, the painted dog has three predators: lions, hyenas and humans.

"Just like wolves here, they are considered a livestock predator," explained Dr, John Tico McNutt, PhD, founder of the Predator Conservation Trust, "and they are on occasion a problem for livestock farmers."

"They shoot them," he continued. "They poison them. Sometimes they run them down on horseback and literally just beat them."

To successfully save the African painted dog from extinction, experts agree there must be worldwide cooperation.

"I think collaboration with zoos and field researchers are the only hope for these dogs," said Amy Roberts.

If that doesn't happen, Roberts predicts the painted dog will go extinct.

"Unfortunately we're going to have to say goodbye to one of the most beautiful canines in the world," she said.