We've got a new feature here on The Doings called the "Brookfield Zoo animal spotlight." Each month, we will feature one (or more) of Brookfield Zoo's animals and give you some background information about the animal(s), its species, its family and its connection to the zoo! This week, the Brookfield Zoo's Chris Howes answered our questions.
Animal's name: Kim
Species: African painted dog
Birth date: November 19, 2004
How long has this animal been at the zoo: Kim has been at Brookfield Zoo since March 2010.
Q. Give us a bit of background on Kim’s species.
A. African painted dogs are fascinating in so many ways. They have large ears and a potent, musky odor. Their hearing and sense of smell are very important in these animals’ daily lives. Their keen hearing helps them track down their main prey of hoofed animals like impalas, gazelles, wildebeests and zebras, as well as smaller animals like hares. As for their sense of smell, they use that to “dog” another member of the pack in case it becomes separated or even to keep tabs on another pack. Of course, their sense of sight isn’t too shabby, either.
Q. Does Kim have any other family at the zoo?
A. Like any big family, Kim’s changes frequently. Currently, her children at the zoo are males Nar, Jack and Haka and females Betty, Sienna and Mazie. Two females born to her in 2012 have left for other zoos to become acquainted with others of their species.
Q. What are Kim’s interactions with people on a daily basis?
A. The zookeepers at Brookfield Zoo are known in the zoo world for being experts at making the animals’ daily lives stimulating physically and mentally. The African painted dogs are no exception. Keepers conduct training sessions using a technique called “positive reinforcement,” which means the painted dogs are rewarded for doing desired behaviors. Kim and the other painted dogs know behaviors such as “down” and “paws up.” Kim is said to know the most. Many times, these behaviors help zoo animals present specific body parts for medical inspection.
Q. Why is it important to learn more about African painted dogs?
A. Staff at Brookfield Zoo strongly believe that having a good understanding of a species helps the public feel more motivated to take positive action for that species. Sadly, that is especially needed for these animals, which are one of Africa’s most endangered predators, thanks to persecution by farmers, the shrinking painted dog habitat, loss of their prey and diseases caught from domestic dogs. The Chicago Zoological Society wants to help save painted dogs, which is why it is hosting a conference in late April to gather experts from around the world to discuss these animals’ welfare in zoos and conservation in the wild.
Q. Anything else you want to say about this animal?
A. Any animals with all pointed teeth must be pretty capable hunters — and they are! Relative to their body weight, they can bite down harder than any other canid. But all is not fierceness with these animals. Among themselves, they have a lot of qualities that, to people, may seem almost friendly. They share food with each other, even giving puppies the first chance at a freshly killed prey item. They also care for any injured or ill members among a group, which typically consist of two males for every female. Their greeting ceremonies consist of lots of licking, twittering and tail wagging.