African hunting dogs get their paws on a brand new enclosure at Whipsnade Zoo

Pair of African hunting dogs. Copyright ZSL, only for use with article about the dogs in spring 2017. PNL-170321-152759004
Pair of African hunting dogs. Copyright ZSL, only for use with article about the dogs in spring 2017. PNL-170321-152759004

A five-strong group of endangered African hunting dogs will set paw in their brand new home at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo for the first time this spring.

Moving into an 8,500sqm enclosure in the UK’s largest zoo, the canines, also known as painted dogs, are an exciting addition to the 200 species that already call ZSL Whipsnade Zoo home.

The group of five females – sisters Malindi, BeeBee, Brandy, Ginger and Donnie – has relocated from Whipsnade’s sister-site ZSL London Zoo.

Hunting dogs are famed for their large ears, sociable nature and incredible stamina that makes them one of the most successful predators in the world.

The new exhibit features a den for the dogs to snooze in, set within a huge outdoor paddock, and a zip-line for keepers to use as a feeding tool for the dogs, which will encourage their instinctive hunting behaviour.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo keeper Steve White said: “We’re incredibly excited to welcome this group of hunting dogs to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, and to be able to share with our visitors the work ZSL is doing around the world to protect this endangered species.

“They are an incredibly social species and live in tightly-knit packs. They work together on everything from hunting prey, to defending territory and raising their pups. Visitors to Whipsnade can witness these fascinating traits – as well as spot the species’ huge, character-defining pair of ears – from an incredible vantage point that looks out across the dogs’ paddock.”

African hunting dogs are classified as Endangered on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species and due to threats such as habitat fragmentation and human-wildlife conflict with farmers their wild populations are in decline.

International conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London), which operates ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, runs the only Africa-wide conservation programme for the species and works throughout Africa to help hunting dogs and people to share the same landscapes.

Part of ZSL’s conservation field work involves fitting hunting dogs with GPS collars to track their movements in the wild; the dogs at Whipsnade will sport their own ‘dog collar’ trackers to help our scientists to trial new technology.

ZSL’s Senior Research Fellow and coordinator of the African Wild Dog Working Group, Prof. Rosie Woodroffe, said: “We estimate that fewer than 700 packs of African hunting dogs remain in the wild, making them one of the world’s most endangered carnivores.

“One of the major threats to the species is human-wildlife conflict and in Kenya, ZSL’s research is developing ways to help foster a peaceful coexistence of people and African hunting dogs in order to allow both to share the same landscapes.”