A litter of rare wild hunting dogs have been born at Yorkshire Wildlife Park, giving hope that the endangered canine species might yet be saved from extinction.
The African Painted Dog puppies made their entrance four weeks ago but have been tucked up safely underground with their mother, Thabo.
Thabo followed her natural instincts to dig a woodland den so that she could hide her pups. Park staff had to wait until last weekend for some of the new-borns to emerge.
The births are particularly significant after a sharp decline in painted dog numbers in the wild. In the past decade, wild populations have dropped from 500,000 to 5,000.
“Painted dogs are heading for extinction so these births are crucial to their future,” said YWP Animal Collection Manager Simon Marsh. “This litter is the best early Christmas present we could have wished for.
“We can’t be sure how many puppies there are yet, but slowly they are coming up to have a fleeting look at the world. Some lucky visitors have spotted them at the entrance to the den but it will be another two to four weeks before they will all be seen out.”
Yorkshire Wildlife Park is part of a European breeding programme aimed at bolstering numbers. It invested heavily in an 8,000 square metre reserve for its three breeding dogs in 2014. Soon after a male, Nefari, was introduced.
The YWP painted dog reserve was created to mirror their environment in the wild. They are found in savannah grasslands and woodlands and love playing in waterholes. At YWP they are free to use supplied shelter or dig their own dens.