African painted dogs might just as well appoint Greg Rasmussen as their official ambassador to the United States.
Rasmussen, the founder and executive director of Painted Dog Research Trust in Zimbabwe, is currently on a 22-city, 49-day tour of the United States, with a quick hop into Canada. He’s spending four nights in St. Louis, with visits to the Endangered Wolf Center and the Saint Louis Zoo.
On Tuesday night, Rasmussen championed on behalf of African painted dogs at the Endangered Wolf Center 2016 Speaker Series. More than three dozen people attended the talk.
“They have an incredible social system,” Rasmussen said. “There’s no hierarchy, no fighting, no leadership struggles,” he said, contrasting that to the presidential campaign taking place in the United States.
“Their teamwork is the best. If we could put them in the Super Bowl, they’d win every year. We ought to have a Super Bowl team called the Painted Dogs.”
Painted dogs, he said, operate in a true democracy. “Puppies will have chosen their leader by the time they are 12 months old. One in every pack is a little more adventurous, a little bolder, with true leadership qualities.” Size and strength are not the keys to becoming the pack’s alpha, Rasmussen said.
About 5,000 African painted dogs are in Africa today, down from perhaps a million dogs a century ago. Their story, he said, parallels what happened to wolves in the United States.
For the most part, they’ve fallen victim to efforts to exterminate them. Originally, Rasmussen said, they were known as tricolored dogs. But “the ranchers who hated them called them wild dogs,” he said, because it’s hard to whip up a frenzy to exterminate “tricolored dogs.”
That took place, he said, even though there is no record of an African painted dog ever attacking a human.
Rasmussen’s efforts in Zimbabwe – first as founder of Painted Dog Conservation and currently at Painted Dog Research Trust – are paying off. “Zimbabwe is the only place in the world where we successfully stopped the shooting of painted dogs.”
His current U.S. trip is also meeting with success. Before arriving in St. Louis on Monday, Feb. 15, 2016, Rasmussen met with a businessman in Ames, Iowa, who has agreed to provide solar power for collars for tracking painted dogs in the wild. On Tuesday, Rasmussen exchanged emails with a St. Louis businessman who wants to provide belting to make the lightweight collars. “They’re not doing this for business,” Rasmussen said. “They’re doing it because they care.”
He said Apple, Google and software companies are also working on the effort to improve tracking collars for painted dogs in the wild. “They want to help conservation,” he said.
The current prototype of collar is about 90 percent effective, he said, including small metal protrusions on the front that can free dogs that get trapped in snare wire.
Snares pose a huge threat to painted dogs in the wild, Rasmussen said, accounting for about 27 percent of their deaths. (70 percent are killed by farmers; 3 percent die of natural causes.)
The wire snares aren’t intended to kill painted dogs. They are placed by mercenaries trying to kill and ship large quantities of meat.
Rasmussen has concocted a clever means of battling the snares. Local villagers are paid to fashion art out of the snare wire, and those pieces are sold, with some of the profits going to the artisans. “It provides income for the community.”
And now, he said, he’s paying a bonus to those who provide their own snare wire, which encourages locals to find and dismantle illegal snare traps. Ultimately, he said, that will be more effective than paying for anti-poaching patrols.
Rasmussen brought snare art to be sold in the Endangered Wolf Center’s Celeste Ruwwe Gift Shop. Proceeds will be split among the non-profit Endangered Wolf Center and the locals in Zimbabwe who make the art.
The Speaker Series event was held at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center Living Learning Center. The Endangered Wolf Center is located on the Tyson property in Eureka, about 20 miles southwest of St. Louis. All proceeds from his talk directly benefit the Mexican wolves, red wolves, maned wolves, swift foxes, fennec foxes and African painted dogs living at the Endangered Wolf Center. The Center has three painted dogs, Dillon, a 9-year-old female, and 13-year-old brothers Tsavo and Dogo.