The African Wild Dog (Lycaon Pictus), also called the Painted Hunting Dog, is a distinctive and wonderful canid species found only in certain lightly wooded areas of Africa. But 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 captive 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 over the last couple of years 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.
The Development of Artificial Insemination Technology in the African Wild Dog
Leanne’s work will now be continued by IBREAM’s second African wild dog Ph.D. student Femke Van den Berghe. Her project will mainly focus 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.
We believe the benefits and possibilities of these techniques for both captive as fragmented free-living populations are numerous. AI has the potential to overcome the high levels of intra-pack aggression often associated with translocation and introduction of new genetically valuable animals within an existing stable pack. In addition, transportation of semen instead of living animals to infuse new genes into a group is cheaper, avoids the removal of animals from established wild packs, and can also decrease the incidence of disease transmission. Moreover, these techniques could potentially be used for broader meta-population management, so as to avoid inbreeding in fenced reserves that are smaller than the range required for African wild dog populations to be self-sustaining, or in cases where natural dispersal is limited. The establishment of a genome resource bank containing cryopreserved sperm of genetically valuable animals delivers a certain level of insurance for the future of African wild dog populations. Such a bank can provide a buffer against possible threats such as fires or a sudden epidemic of infectious disease both in captivity and in the wild.
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.