African painted dog talk highlights positives

Given that he was talking about an endangered species, it was refreshing to hear Dr. Greg Rasmussen sound so many optimistic tones during his talk on African painted dogs March 8, 2017 at the Endangered Wolf Center.

Dr. Greg Rasmussen arriving at the Saint Louis Zoo after his visit to the Endangered Wolf Center March 8-9, 2017.

Rasmussen even used the term “Map of Opportunity” when he displayed a map showing where African painted dogs can be found in national parks in five African nations that have united to create the Kavango Zambezi trans-frontier Conservation area (KAZA),  the largest trans-boundary conservation area in Africa. Here under one conservation umbrella, painted dogs in Angola, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia have the potential to thrive and expand, Rasmussen said, though he did discuss the need to “shore up” and connect the area. (He said about 3,000 dogs live in protected areas, another 2,000 in unprotected areas.)

He discussed technological improvements in solar-powered tracking collars that also carry metal guards that protect painted dogs from wire snares that poachers use in an illegal bush meat trade. Snares are a major cause of painted dog deaths even though the snares aren’t intended for them.

Rasmussen was the founder of Painted Dog Conservation and currently runs Painted Dog Research Trust in Zimbabwe. He spoke to an audience of about 40 at the Endangered Wolf Center Speaker Series — his fifth appearance at the Center — during his annual tour of painted dog facilities and conservation organizations in the United States and Europe. The night after his visit to the Endangered Wolf Center, he appeared at the Saint Louis Zoo Lectures series.

Five African painted dogs currently live at the Endangered Wolf Center. Three males arrived the day after Rasmussen’s talk, transferring from the Henson Robinson Zoo in Springfield, Illinois, in hopes that they breed with the two females already here.

Among other highlights noted by Rasmussen:

  • Progress is visible on the African Ecology Training Center for young aspiring biologists and conservationists. He encouraged audience members to donate via a GoFundMe campaign at www.gofundme.com/PDRTZimbabwe
  • Plans are being drawn for a school for local village children, who currently walk about 15 miles to school.
  • Enough evidence exists to shut down shady tour operators — some operating under the guise of “pseudo-researchers” — who disturb the dens of African painted dogs, threatening their very survival.

Shaba, a female African painted dog at the Endangered Wolf Center. Photo by Michelle Steinmeyer.

The progress regarding den disturbance was especially pleasing to audience members who heard Rasmussen in 2016, when he also talked about that grave threat. Since then, he said, research has been compiled that may soon lead to shutting down the operations of irresponsible tour operators.

The research shows that when dens are disturbed, pups are moved more often, resulting in a 30 percent increase in pup deaths. Pups involved in frequent moves play about two hours less per day than pups in undisturbed dens. Pups from disturbed dens are fed less, and their legs end up about 7 percent shorter than those in undisturbed dens.

Rasmussen noted the value of eco-tourism. But safeguards are needed, he said. “In Yellowstone, you can see wolves. But no one’s allowed anywhere near a wolf den — and that’s it.”

He also made these comments and observations about African painted dogs:

  • “They have a Three Musketeers attitude: All for one, one for all.”
  • “There’s no conflict in the pack, no fighting, no dominance — ever.”
  • “Every morning, every dog in the pack greets every other dog.”
  • “Their eyes are never bigger than their stomach.” (He said that two dogs can kill a 600-pound kudu in 60 seconds but would only do so if there were enough mouths to feed.)
  • “By age 1, the pups will have determined their alpha,” the smartest in the pack, not necessary the largest.

The Speaker Series appearance took place at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center Living Learning Center. The Endangered Wolf Center is located on property it rents from Tyson Research Center.