Our pack of four African painted dog brothers turn two today! At this age, they start to test their boundaries and position within the pack, and we have seen some shuffles in their pack hierarchy ever since they arrived. Every time one of the dogs tries to move up you hear lots of squeaks and barks around the exhibit. These brothers tend to be a little dramatic when it comes to these changes and while it may sound alarming from the guest perspective, it is the best way for them to communicate.
Currently, Wiki is the leader of our pack with his second in command being Rafiki. You can usually catch these two dogs next to each other when they are resting on exhibit. Wiki can be a little stand-offish when it comes to enrichment and keeper interactions, while Rafiki loves to get right in the middle of everything. Wiki tends to have to intervene when Rafiki gets a little to obnoxious or pushy with the other two dogs. Tamu is the sweetest of the group and loves to train with keepers or figure out enrichment. He tends to be the first to grab a bone or rabbit and will get chased around by the other dogs because of it. Modo is right in the middle of the group. He will approach keepers if there is something new or exciting but won’t stick around for long if it doesn’t capture his interests.
The pack’s favorite enrichment to receive is anything that they can tear into pieces. The most common thing you might see them with are things like palm fronds or tree branches. They will carry these branches around the exhibit and pull them into smaller pieces. They also really enjoy rolling in smelly things like hoofstock feces or perfume. Every day, we offer varied enrichment – cognitive, behavioral, food, environmental, sensory – as part of our enrichment program to keep the dogs physically and mentally stimulated. They celebrated this past Saturday with a goat carcass (seen in our timeline video), which helps encourage their natural hunting behaviors in the wild. It’s also a good form of exercise and the bone-in meat helps strengthen their teeth and jaw.
The best time to see our pack is in the morning or late afternoon as that is when they are the most active. Guests visiting the Houston Zoo to see African painted dogs are also helping to save this species in Africa. A portion of every admission ticket membership is donated to conservation efforts dedicated to protecting animals in the wild.