The African wild dog (Lycaon Pictus), also called the African painted dog, is a distinctive and wonderful canid species found only in fragmented populations in southern and eastern Africa. Its numbers are in such decline that it is now listed as endangered by the IUCN.
This species is not only important to the local ecosystem and the planet as a whole but is also economically valuable to local communities that can make a livelihood (e.g. through eco-tourism) from the unique natural fauna surrounding them.
Reproduction in the African wild dog is complicated because it is intricately linked to the complex pack social structure, which features separate male and female hierarchies. This makes captive breeding a difficult task since even simple measures like introducing new members to the pack can have fatal consequences.
While great efforts, such as habitat conservation, are going into preserving the African wild dog the fundamental knowledge of its reproductive biology to enable assisted breeding, which is likely to become an essential tool in preserving and repopulating the species, is sadly lacking.
Understanding the Reproductive Biology of the African Wild Dog
IBREAM’s first African wild dog researcher Leanne Van der Weyde has been working between 2009 and 2013 to rectify this by studying these wonderful animals both in captivity and in the wild. Along with our partners at Edinburgh, Colchester, Artis and Duisburg Zoos as well as West Midland Safari Park and Port Lympne Wild Animal Park), she measured reproductive hormones from identified individual dogs and compared this with reproductive cycles, dominance, social status, behaviour and pregnancy to build up a picture of how reproduction works in this species. In the field at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, South Africa she did similar work to learn more about the reproductive behavior of African wild dogs under field conditions.
Leanne achieved amazing results and has finished her Ph.D. in May 2013. The information and understanding she gained during her work now allow us to contribute in developing supplementary conservation strategies to help save the African wild dog.
Details of Leanne’s research can be found here:
The Development of Artificial Insemination Technology in the African wild dog
Leanne’s work has been continued by IBREAM’s second African wild dog Ph.D. student Femke Van den Berghe. Her project mainly focussed on male reproductive biology, the development of semen freezing techniques and non-invasive methods for detection of ovulation in this species. Ultimately, it is hoped that a high-quality sperm bank and artificial insemination (AI) techniques can be developed in order to assist the long-term conservation of this species.
Femke started her Ph.D. at James Cook University, Townsville, Australia in February 2014. To answer her research questions, she has worked with 5 zoological institutions in the US, as well as a wildlife sanctuary in Namibia, and will finish her Ph.D. early 2018. Details of her different studies and results can be found here:
1. Improved sperm freezing in the African wild dog
2. The use of Dog Appeasing Pheromone to aid pack reintroduction
3. Are subdominant males less fertile?
4. Non-invasive detection of ovulation in females
More results will be added soon!
Time is running out for the African Wild Dog and our work requires YOUR support. Please click here to help us preserve this magnificent species.