Wildlife TV

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Collecting Urine For Conservation

They may not be the most famous or iconic African animals (they’re not one of the ‘Big 5’, for example) but they have a place in the heart of many safari-goers; the African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus), or ‘painted dog‘, is a fascinating, beautiful and (sadly) endangered animal.

African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus)

The African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) is a beautiful and unique animal, but it is becoming increasingly endangered. Photo Credits.

Wild dog numbers are dwindling in the wild for a number of complex reasons, but work is under way to help conserve the remaining population and hopefully help them prosper for future generations: recent research efforts have shown that the secret to their salvation may be found in their urine! But why are wild dogs in so much trouble? The reason, almost invariably, is because of conflict with humans. Human farmers do not enjoy sharing land with dogs that hunt and kill their livestock.

African wild dogs are exceptional hunters, perhaps some of the most successful hunters in the animal kingdom. Packs of wild dogs cooperate extremely effectively to coordinate bringing down prey that is often much larger and stronger than themselves and their hunts end in a successful kill 80% of the time. Most predators are very lucky if they can succeed in a hunt half of the time. The effective team-working approach to hunting means that individual wild dogs do not have to be strong and powerful which means that if they come into conflict with a competing predator, such as a lion or spotted hyena, they are unable to put up a fight. Indeed, in the wild, lions and hyenas will drive wild dogs off of their kills and steal it for themselves. Wild dogs are also not particularly fearsome creatures; their peculiar social system is based on submission and non-aggression (for example, in the pack, individuals will never fight over food, but rather compete with begging).

In order to ensure that they don’t end up on the wrong end of a lion, wild dogs hunt over huge areas of land, which helps lower the chances that they’ll run into any competition. Unfortunately, huge, open, wild spaces are becoming more and more rare in Africa and wild dogs are feeling the squeeze, in fact, almost all the nature reserves in Africa are too small to sustain a decently sized pack of wild dogs. One quirk that wild dogs possess is that fences cannot contain them; they are notoriously clever in finding a weakness in a fence and getting through it, and they certainly have reason to.

Wild Dog Pack with a Wildebeest

Wild Dogs are extraordinarily effective hunters, able to bring down prey much larger than themselves, however, they are very social and do not show aggression to each other (most of the time). Photo Credits.

The problem arises when wild dogs break free of their wildlife reserves and go out hunting in the human world beyond, often killing farmers’ livestock. Local farmers have resorted to extreme measures in protecting their livelihoods, often resorting to extermination, including poisoning whole packs of wild dog. Diseases spreading from domestic dogs into the wild has also resulted in wild dog deaths and this, combined with severe habitat loss, is threatening the very existence of the animal. Last century there could have been as many as 500,000 individuals throughout Africa, but now their numbers are down to around 5000; only 1% of the former population. In a previous post, we saw how there are only a handful of individuals remaining in South Africa.

Thankfully, work is under way to save the wild dog. Craig Jackson, a wild dog researcher, has recently completed a thesis on wild dog territorial behaviour for the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and it seems he might have discovered a key for the conservation of wild dogs. Packs of wild dog hunt in clearly defined territories (that ignore human fences) and these territories are marked by the spraying of urine. The dogs are very respectful of these territorial borders and will rarely cross over into a neighbour’s turf. Jackson found that by collecting the sand onto which they sprayed urine, he could relocate it and create ‘fake’ borders and the dogs were fooled; they respected the transplanted urine trails as if another pack had sprayed them.

Urine collection might seem like an unlikely form of conservation, but strategically placing urine trails around wild dog packs will be much more effective than erecting fences and it will keep wild dogs out of danger from rival predators and disgruntled farmers. Unfortunately, the process of following dogs around and collecting their urine is very time consuming and labour intensive, so the challenge is set to try and synthesis a chemical that replicates wild dog urine and mass produce it. Pioneering wild dog researcher and conservationist John ‘Tico’ McNutt is on the case and is currently experimenting with a range of options.

Hopefully, if this new idea can be implemented, we might see a decline in unnecessary wild dog deaths and we might be able to save the species from extinction. It would be a tragedy to see such a peculiar and fascinating animal disappear, but, with the right science it might not be the case.

Much love,

-Nick

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Chinese Zoo tries to pass off dog as an African Lion

One of the my favourite places to go visit as a kid was the Zoo. I don’t like seeing animals in captivity but when growing up in Europe there’s not many other options to see African animals. As long as the animals are being treated properly and the zoo providing an educational program for the visitors I like to think they are helping our planet by making sure the younger generations sees and falls in love with the species and, hopefully, later on help out in conservation and ecology projects.

But things can go wrong if the zoo is not properly managed or like the following one in China, tries to deceive the visitors.

A zoo in a park in Louhe, situated in the central province of Henan, China, decided that not having an African lion should not be a reason to not display an African lion.. Instead they found it fitting to put a Tibetan Mastiff in the enclosure and just call it a lion. Hopefully no one would notice right? At least not until the dog started barking..

I’ve seen many lions in captivity and in the wild and if there is something I can assure you is that African lions do not bark.. They might roar, growl and sometimes even meow, but they definitely do not woof..

Check out below the poor dog that was chosen to work as a lion substitute.

 

Tibetan Mastiff playing the role of an African Lion at the Louhe Zoo in China.

Tibetan Mastiff playing the role of an African Lion at the Louhe Zoo in China.
Photo Credits

 

It is definitely a pretty dog but this is how an African lion (Panthera leo) is supposed to look like:

 

Male Lion (Panthera leo), the king of the jungle, wandering around the savannah

 

And if you think that the Chinese staff at the zoo decided that having an animal posing as another animal was enough, you are very wrong.
They also had a white fox pretending to be a Leopard, dogs pretending to be wolves and rats as snakes.

I’m shocked at how they thought any of these trades would fool anyone..

Their excuse was that the lion and the leopard were both away on a breeding program and would be back soon and in the meanwhile the dog and the fox were filling in for them. I wonder what was their excuse for the rats posing as snakes..

Such a strange strange planet we live in..

 

Até à próxima.

~Sofia.

 

If you liked this entry, make sure you check out our News category.
Previous News entries:
Elephants avoid a full moon when being naughty
What perfume to wear on an African safari
Adam Sandler attacked by cheetah in South Africa
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Adam Sandler attacked by cheetah in South Africa

Just a couple of days ago we had in the news the story about how an impala jumped into a tourist car in the Kruger National Park while trying to escape two cheetahs chasing it.

Today another news story involving cheetahs but this time with a famous Hollywood actor, Adam Sandler.

It seems that Mr. Sandler went on a South African safari and got to interact with cheetahs. Bare in mind that this is not the normal safari experience. Wild animals don’t like to be disturbed when they are just trying to survive and human interaction usually brings unnecessary additional stress that can damage their health. Unfortunately some places have either captive animals or tamed or semi-tamed animals that can be “exploited” to bring more tourists. Who wouldn’t want to pet and interact with a wild big cat right?
Wild animals will always display wild behaviours, whether we want it or not.

In this case you can watch on the video, first the introduction to what happened on the Letterman show, and then the actual video of the incident showing how the cheetah first circles Mr. Sandler and then jumps to his back. It is not in any way a vicious predator attack, it looks like a playful move from a big (probably tamed) cat wanting to have some fun. Of course that I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be scary to have a cheetah jumping on top of you. Cheetahs are the only felines that cannot retract their claws, this means that even if the animal was just playing, it could very easily make a nasty “scratch” (plus a traumatic experience).

 

Check out the video of Adam Sandler on the David Letterman show explaining what happened and the actual footage with the cheetah at the end.

 

 

Até à próxima!

~Sofia.

 

If you liked this entry, make sure you check out our Dangerous Animals category.
Other Dangerous Animals entries:
When Herbivores Attack: Elephants & Rhinos
A bloody end to a bloody career: Poacher trampled by elephant
Predator or Prey: Who do we cheer for?
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