Painted dogs vulnerable during denning season

– visitors exploring Mana Pools and Hwange National Park must refrain from approaching den sites, painted dog experts have appealed.

John Cassim

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Wildlife experts have warned, getting closer to Painted dogs denning sites may result in slight disturbances that will cause the premature death of the puppies.

According to a cautionary statement from the Painted Dog Conservation, “Disturbances at the den sites can have dire consequences, such as prematurely forcing the dogs to abandon their dens, putting the pups at a higher risk, such as predation from lion or hyena for example.” 

The site is usually surrounded by thick bushes to provide protection and usually, the alpha female, and sometimes another pack member, tend to stay behind with the pups, safeguarding the den while the rest of the pack ventures out to hunt. 

“The painted dog denning season is upon us! Our dedicated Trackers in Mana Pools and Hwange have been observing fascinating behaviours within the packs that indicate denning activity.

“However, as we rejoice in the potential recovery of this incredible species, we must also address a crucial concern,” a statement by Painted Dog Conservation, warned.

It is assumed that last year the Nyamepi pack in Mana Pools, experienced the loss of their entire litter, most likely due to the irresponsible behavior of guides in the area.

“We earnestly appeal to all visitors and wildlife enthusiasts exploring Mana Pools and Hwange National Park to refrain from approaching den sites or following packs with young pups too closely.

It is our collective duty to create a safe and nurturing environment for these magnificent animals to thrive,” said the Painted Dog Conservation statement.

Painted dogs are a threatened specie globally, but there are signs of remarkable growth owing to efforts by organisations such as Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe.

As such their reproductive patterns are closely monitored in favour of undisturbed growth in their population.

– concept of denning 

During this denning season, the pups will occupy the birth den for up to 6 weeks and after this amount of time at a den, the parasite load builds up and forces the dogs to move to a clean den site. 

The second site would be used for 2-3 weeks before the pups are moved to a 3rd den site a further 100-200m away.

In this region, the denning season lasts for the first 3 months of the new puppies’ life who are generally born from May to June each year. 

At this time of year, the game is still dispersed as there are many waterholes scattered through the floodplain. 

While the pups are small there is not a huge demand on the adults to feed them, but they do need to be successful enough to feed the alpha female who stays at the den looking after the pups. 

She is normally lactating too heavily to join the hunts at the early denning stage.

As the season dries up the game migrates to the river, meaning the pack has to extend its hunting radius from the den sometimes as far as 10km in a straight line from the den. 

This means the den has to be close enough to this prime hunting area so the pack can succeed on hunts and be far enough from the high predator densities of the floodplain to keep the pups safe

As the pups grow the pressure on the pack to have successful hunts increases, especially due to the fact the pups grow fast and have insatiable appetites. 

It is at this time of year the adults become super fit doing long hunts from the den and returning to feed the pups and caretaker twice a day.

– wild dogs’ population

Painted dogs are also known as wild dogs and are estimated to be around 700 in Zimbabwe. 

Mana Pools National Park has roughly 90 dogs while Hwange National Park has up to 200 individuals.

There are painted dogs in some parts of the country other than Mana Pools and Hwange bringing a national painted dog population to an estimated figure of 700 dogs.

Wild dogs follow five seasons all within a year from mating, pregnancy, denning, nomadic phase, yearling or learning to hunting and adulthood. 

They only have pups once a year and currently we are in the denning season which usually starts from May to August.

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