Two litters of Bush Dog pups at the Chester Zoo have begun to venture outside their dens for the first time. The first litter, consisting of five pups, was discovered in August after keepers heard tiny squeals coming from the den. A second set arrived in September, but the number of pups is not yet known. Some pups in the second litter may still be tucked in underground burrows.
The pack of pups means non-stop action in the Bush Dog exhibit. The pups play-fight and explore most of the day. When intervention is needed, the moms carry the pups in their mouths, careful not to injure the youngsters with their sharp teeth.
Bush Dogs are not well studied, so Chester Zoo keepers hope that these two litters will add to the knowledge base for the species. For example, it is rare for two litters to be produced within one pack only weeks apart. Normally, the alpha male and only one female produce offspring.
Once all the pups emerge, the zoo staff will weigh, sex, and microchip the pups, and conduct a hands-on health check. This will allow the staff to monitor each individual pup’s progress.
Bush Dogs are native to Central and South America, where they inhabit wet forests and grasslands. They hunt in packs to chase down small mammals, lizards, and birds, but can also hunt and kill animals twice their size. With a web of skin between their toes, Bush Dogs are excellent swimmers.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists Bush Dogs as Near Threatened after their wild numbers dropped by more than 25% in just 12 years. They have suffered from habitat loss from farming, a loss of prey species, and from contracting diseases spread by other canines or domestic dogs.
See more photos of the pups below.