Wild Lunch: Wild Dogs, Lions and Me

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Yesterday's Wild Lunch Wednesday event was another cracker, with zoologist Rosie Woodroffe passionately discussing her experiences working in East Africa with African Wild Dogs.  Rosie's enthusiasm for these charismatic and energetic animals was infectious! 

If you missed the event, you can watch it again here:

We managed to cover a number of audience questions during the event but, as always, there were too many to answer in 30 minutes!  So, below are Rosie's answers to the top 5 remaining questions at the end of the event...

Q. I want to be a zoologist when I am older.  How did you get into being a zoologist?  What qualifications did you take and how did you start working for ZSL?

A. I did A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and Maths, and then studied Zoology at university.  I went on to do a PhD on the behaviour and ecology of badgers, and first came to ZSL briefly after that to set up a project on banded mongooses.  As important as my academic work, though, was that I took part in expeditions through my university explorers’ club.  From this I learned a lot about travelling overseas and coping with the logistical challenges of doing fieldwork in remote areas.

Q. What are ZSL's plans for wild dog breeding? (we asked our zoo experts to answer this one!)

A. In recent years, we have been successful at breeding African Wild Dogs at ZSL London zoo, and we do so in support of the needs of the EEP (European Ex-situ Programme) in fulfilling the programme’s role for ex-situ conservation of the species.  At present we hold single sex groups at both ZSL zoos.  Our view is that breeding groups offer the dogs the best opportunity to thrive in our care and with this in mind we are liaising with the EEP to develop the detailed planning needed to achieve this in the future.

African Wild Dogs in Kenya

Q. Is there an issue with low genetic diversity in this population? Is that a conservation concern with the population you study?

A. This population does indeed have low genetic diversity, reflecting its origin from a small number of founder animals. However, we have never seen any evidence of genetic problems, and wild dogs naturally show a very strong avoidance of mating with relatives. Interestingly, the part of the wild dogs’ DNA which deals with the immune system shows much higher variation in this population than in many other populations, perhaps reflecting that it has been living for so many generations alongside domestic dogs and all the diseases they carry.

GPS collared African wild dog

Q. What are the techniques that you use to monitor wild dog population numbers?

A. Counting wild dogs is actually really difficult, because each pack covers such a large area. We use a combination of knowing the sizes of collared packs, and then using sightings of uncollared packs to estimate how many other wild dogs there are. The sizes of each pack can vary widely as pups are born and young adults disperse away to form their own new packs, and so in many ways the numbers of packs provides a better estimate of population size than the number of individual wild dogs.

Q. Do you have any good field tools or techniques to be able to tell the difference between a wild dog footprint and a domestic dog footprint? 

A. Wild dogs’ feet are unusual in that the pads of the two middle toes are fused at the back. You can see this in a really good print in mud or fine sand. Having said that, I did once meet a Labrador with the same kind of fused pads!


We're halfway through our Wild Lunch series.  Join us for our remaining events, where we'll be going underwater to discover more about fieldwork in the UK and the Indian Ocean... I imagine there will be some similarities and some differences, temperature being one of them!  Full details can be found here: www.zsl.org/wildlunchwednesdays 


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