On October 23, carnivore keepers at Edinburgh Zoo announced the birth of an African Hunting Dog—a first for the zoo! The announcement coincides with the reopening of the hunting dog walkway, which keepers had closed to visitors in August as they suspected Jet, the pack’s non-dominant female, was pregnant.
With less than 5,500 African Hunting Dogs left in the wild, the birth of this puppy is an immense achievement for Edinburgh Zoo. Habitat fragmentation is one of the biggest factors in the hunting dogs’ decline, as the packs need a large range in order to remain sustainable. Hunting Dogs are also heavily persecuted by farmers, even though the dogs rarely attack livestock. Education and conservation breeding programs, such as the one Edinburgh Zoo is part of, remain crucial to saving this species from extinction.
Darren McGarry, head of living collections at Edinburgh Zoo says, “We are all really excited about the arrival of this puppy. Hunting Dogs, like many other pack animals, are very difficult to breed successfully. Although we don’t know its sex yet, this pup is proving to be a real bundle of attitude. It’s very bold for such a young age and we’ve often spotted it tugging along joints of meat that are twice its size. All of the dogs have been seen feeding it and it looks like an established member of the pack."
He continues, “Most first-time mothers can be very nervous, so we decided to close the enclosure to visitors in order to give Jet and her pup the best chance of a successful birth. Hunting dogs have a very intricate social hierarchy and if they feel threatened this can cause the mother to reject her pups.”
In about a week, the puppy will be caught for its first health check and to be sexed. As Hunting Dog puppies are born black and white and only start to get their mottled markings at around two months old, the keepers will only name the feisty little pup once its colors have come through.
Although Edinburgh Zoo’s pack has two males, Blade and Two Socks, only Blade, the dominant male, will breed with the pack’s females. Usually, the dominant female will be the one to have pups but it is not uncommon for lower-ranking females to also give birth. The zoo’s keepers are confident that this pup will be the first of many for their pack.