Growing up Fast
The pups will drink milk from Violet until they are about 6 weeks old. She will then start to wean the pups, and her milk will dry up. At the moment, the pack have been feeding both Violet and her puppies with regurgitated meat from their hunts. Once her teats have shrunken, Violet will start to hunt with the pack once more. The puppies will leave the birthing den at about 6 – 8 weeks as the den gets infested with parasites like fleas etc and this stimulates the dogs to move to a clean den.
Freedom, our Bushlife Support Unit community and conservation Manager writes, “Individual painted dog pack numbers vary from just a few dogs to about 30 in a pack. This gives them a huge advantage during hunting. These animals have evolved a cooperative breeding strategy, which means that the Alpha female and Alpha male reproduce. This Nyakasanga pack is led by Sarge, and Violet is the Alpha female.
During field observations, we witnessed these cute little pups being fed, playing, and growing. While Violet and Wandile, her daughter, stayed behind guarding pups, the rest of the pack went out hunting, greeting each other with twittering and whining sounds before going out in a chosen direction. Violet remained behind checking the surrounding area and making sure there are no sneakers. Once we observed her looking in a particular place with enquiring eyes; she suddenly took off chasing something which we thought was a mongoose.
Over the last week, we have been privileged to be near these beautiful creatures here in Mana Pools, while the rest of the world is blocked by this pandemic. We witnessed pack members coming back from a successful hunt. On arrival at the den, the pups beg from adults, often licking their faces to encourage regurgitation. Whole chunks of meat will be brought up and eaten by youngsters, as well as their guardian. Although Wandile, who is now a year old, plays her role of looking after her siblings and playing with them, she is ever hungry and was observed stealing meat from the youngsters, often being chased away by Violet.
The African Painted Dog is the largest canid in Africa and is listed as highly endangered. Their numbers are thought to be less than 7000, with home ranges extending anywhere between 100 and 1000 square kilometres per pack, leading to a number of conflict areas which include being caught in wire snares by poachers (unintentionally) while looking for meat, infectious diseases like canine distemper, habitat loss, and kleptoparasitism, whereby they lose their prey to other predators such as lions and hyenas. There is a high puppy mortality rate due to competition from lions and hyenas.
During this past week we noticed that since the pups are still very young, pack members always stayed put in a relatively small area, hunting, eating and running back to feed the pups and Alpha female”.