African wild dogs are an endangered canid species, only 7,000 dogs are thought to remain. Like many carnivores are facing drastic population declines due to habitat loss and human wildlife conflict, they are one of the most hated predators due to the way they kill in a pack. African wild dogs face the additional challenge of high juvenile mortality both in captivity and in the wild. In 2017 and 2018, CCF was given the opportunity to care for three litters of orphaned wild dog pups that were confiscated by the Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism (MEFT) after local farmers had destroyed their dens. With little information on how to raise African wild dog pups, this was an opportunity to use the knowledge CCF has gained in caring for orphaned cheetah cubs and to share what they have learned in raising these African wild dog pup in captivity.
CCF received 18 pups ranging in age from 2.5 to 4.5 weeks old in various states of heath and development. Upon arrival all pups received supplemental fluids and were given an anti-parasitic for hookworms and coccidia, and some pups required heat supplementation and assistance voiding. The three litters received varying amounts of milk and meat depending on their age, and all were vaccinated for distemper, parvovirus, parainfluenza, adenovirus type II, and Rabies when they were old enough. Play behavior, social interactions, and close contact between the three litters was approached slowly based on positive behaviors such as vocalizations and subornative posturing. As the pups got older, they were allowed access to increasingly larger outdoor enclosures.
The pups were slowly transitioned to an increasingly meat predominant milk/meat mixture until they were completely weaned off the milk supplements at around nine weeks of age. Caretakers found that the proper amount of meat is very important in that if increased portions of meat were introduced too quickly, gastrointestinal upset resulted. The meat offered started with a high percentage (78%) of organ meat which then shifted to skeletal meat on the bone as they got older.
After one year of care and rehabilitation by CCF caretakers, 17 of the 18 pups survived into adulthood with 15 of the 18 ultimately being relocated to an enclosed private game reserve for potential rewilding. This is an incredible outcome given that previous reports of pup mortality rates in captivity and in the wild are estimated to range between 53-63%. The success CCF demonstrated rearing these litters and the information gained in nutritional management, social behaviors, health conditions, husbandry, and growth rates, provided invaluable insights for the future management of captive and orphaned African wild dogs and ultimately the protection and survival of this species.
The results of the rearing of these pups is published in the Journal of Biology, entitled Captive rearing of orphaned African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in Namibia: A case study, by Laurie Marker, Meredith Honig, Lauren Pfeiffer, Monique Kuypers, and Kathy Gervais.