Staff at the Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center are heartbroken to report the loss of a female African painted dog named Annie. Annie came to the Topeka Zoo from the Bronx Zoo last week the day before Thanksgiving to be a mate for one of the Topeka Zoo’s male African painted dogs.
African painted dogs are a critically endangered species found in sub-Saharan Africa. Unlike hyenas that continue to do well, painted dogs have been challenged as human populations continue to grow in their range territories and have splintered populations of painted dogs into isolated areas.
The introduction and integration of Annie into the zoo’s pack of dogs began upon her arrival at the zoo last week. For successful integration of a new dog into a pack, it typically needs to be done within three to five days. “All appeared to be going well,” said Zoo Director Brendan Wiley. “We saw positive signs as they got to know each other through a visual and auditory introduction process.”
African painted dogs have an extremely complex social system unlike any other canid. “That is one of the reasons they are facing such a hard time in the wild,” said Wiley. As wild packs become more and more isolated, genetics become more and more related and because of their social system, it’s not just as simple as introducing new dogs into the wild groups.
That same challenge with the complex social system makes it difficult to build new groups in zoos with animals under human care. “You know the dynamics you are dealing with. You take every precaution. Yet it’s impossible to fully predict how the introduction will play out,” said Wiley.
After an introduction plan was developed in conjunction with the African Painted Dog Species Survival Plan, zoo staff began the introduction process in the painted dog outdoor habitat Saturday afternoon. Annie was first introduced to the alpha male. Things went very well. When things continued smoothly after the next subordinate male was added to the mix, it was time to include the last male. “That is when things went wrong for Annie,” said Wiley. “She was attacked by the beta male and sustained life threatening injuries.”
The introduction occurred under the watchful eye of zoo staff the entire time. In just two minutes, the fight was broken up and the males were separated inside. With the males secure, staff rushed in to save Annie. She immediately underwent surgery to repair the injuries. She was given a very guarded post-op prognosis and was monitored throughout the night. She succumbed to her injuries at about 10:00 Sunday morning.
“We aren’t sure why the attack to occurred,” said Wiley. “Over the next several weeks we will work with the Species Survival Plan to determine what the next step is for the group of male painted dogs that live here.”