News about a toddler who was mauled to death after falling into the African wild dogs’ exhibit area at the Pittsburgh Zoo flooded the net yesterday. The tragic accident triggered different reactions as to what will happen next to the culprits of this very sad incident.
What are African Wild Dogs and why did they attack such a harmless kid? Let’s take a closer look at these dogs and how wild could they possibly be in a much enclosed environment. Also called hunting dogs, these animals belong to the vanishing and almost extinct species of dogs in East Africa. They weight about 55 to 70 pounds depending on maturity and lives up to 12 to 15 years. The Latin name for the African wild dog means “painted wolf” which highly describes their colorful coat of dark brown and black hair with some yellow patches all over. Their long, bushy tails have white tips on it, more than just a unique physical characteristic but serves as a warning sign or flag waved to spot one wild dog during hunting. This sets apart the pack and leads them to connect quickly even when astray.
Its long legs, massive jaws and sharp teeth mark it relatively easy for them to hunt and feed in the wild. Their distinctly large, erect and bat-like ears make them look different from the other dogs together with their foot which has four toes instead of five for the domestic dogs.
These African wild dogs operate and live in packs just like wolves. A pack with a good number of 20 dogs is very effective in their hunting capabilities. Hunting time is usually early in the morning and late in the evening giving much focus on gazelles and antelopes for their fun meals. Hunting is done through an organized manner as some dogs approach the prey, to be followed by the others when the pack leader
is done with its feed.
These painted dogs could be as wild and dangerous but according to an article in National Geographic featuring an interview with Kim McCreery of the African Wild Dog Conservancy in Tucson Arizona, the dogs’ behavior may be brought about by curiosity and not heeding to the instinct to kill. Here is an excerpt from the interview:
Question: Why do you think the Pittsburgh Zoo dogs attacked the boy who'd fallen into their habitat?
McCreery: We can't really say. My colleague [Bob Robbins] and I have been talking about it. What happened yesterday was a tragedy. And we don't know exactly what happened.
In the wild, we have never been threatened by wild dogs, and we've spent countless hours in the African bush.
Another interview made with Rosie Woodroffe, an American Wild Dog Expert revealed a few things:
“The first point I'd like to make is that wild dogs are not dangerous to people in the wild. I have never heard of an attack on people, and where I work in Kenya, people—including small children herding goats or walking to school—encounter wild dogs on foot regularly, yet local people are not afraid of them. I have personally walked up to wild dogs many times and never once felt threatened. The second thing
to point out is that wild dogs are extremely bold and curious. For example, if you drive up to them in a vehicle, they are likely to come up to have a look rather than run away. So, if something unusual falls into their enclosure, I would expect the whole pack to immediately rush up to investigate.”
African Wild Dogs Video
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