Yorkshire Wildlife Park opened its doors back in April 2009 with a mission to focus on conservation and welfare. One of the first species was the African wild dog, often called painted dogs, (Lycaon pictus) and our Park became active members of the African Wild Dog EEP. From day one we were fundraising for in situ conservation projects and we chose to support Painted Dog Conservation and Wildlife Vets International, both of whom are working towards conserving African wild dogs in Zimbabwe.
In 2013 the Yorkshire Wildlife Park Foundation was granted its charitable status to help raise and channel more funds towards conservation and welfare projects around the world. With the Foundation established and the Wildlife Park growing fast we felt confident we could develop and expand our conservation activities so we applied for and won the first BIAZA Conservation Grant.
The project was to bring together ex situ conservation breeding and in situ conservation activities and draw on the experiences and knowledge to fill in any gaps. Having already supported Painted Dog Conservation and Wildlife Vets International we thought this was an ideal opportunity to develop and build the relationship. Painted Dog Conservation are based near Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and are at the forefront of community engagement and monitoring African Wild Dogs in Zimbabwe. Wildlife Vets International work in conjunction with Painted Dog Conservation and run a domestic dog vaccination programme to protect African Wild Dogs from disease.
As part of the IUCN One Plan approach and the guidelines on the use of ex situ management for species conservation we wanted to bring the strengths of ex situ and in situ conservation together and create a direct link between the African Wild Dogs in the wild and the animals in our care.
In 2014 we made our first trip out to Zimbabwe and worked with the staff at the Painted Dog Conservation Rehabilitation Centre. We helped develop safer working practices and training protocols for the staff. We worked on animal training for the African Wild Dog which could not be released back into the wild and improved husbandry techniques. The trip allowed us to monitor wild dog packs in Hwange National Park and observe wild behaviours. We also experienced the community outreach work Painted Dog Conservation carry out by visiting schools, clinics and arts and craft projects where they turn bush meat snares into ornaments and jewellery. This gave us a real insight into the life of local people living in and around the National Park and how Painted Dog Conservation operates.
Since that initial trip we have continued developing other areas which are mutually beneficial. Yorkshire Wildlife Park now has a comprehensive ex situ research programme which will contribute to in situ conservation as well as improving welfare. A member of the Painted Dog Conservation team, Dought Nkomo, visited us to experience husbandry practices and protocols, health and safety, construction, maintenance and education.
Most recently in 2016 a member of our Carnivore Team, Rhianna Larner, made the trip to Zimbabwe to continue the work started in 2014.
We are continuing with this project and still have funds left from the initial grant to allow for another trip and to develop the Rehabilitation Centre and the vaccine programme.
We are aiming for a holistic approach to African wild dog conservation where ex situ and in situ knowledge is gathered and shared to benefit them in the wild and in our care. Research, husbandry, welfare, community outreach, education, sustainability and commercial activities are all part of running Yorkshire Wildlife Park and Painted Dog Conservation and where these areas overlap we can assist each other. By developing relationships, we can work towards the goal of conserving the dogs in the wild and also keep a healthy insurance population in zoos.
To complete the story so far, just two days ago our first painted dog pups emerged from their den. So starts the next generation helping conserve their species in the wild.
This project description was written by Simon Marsh, Animal Collections Manager, Yorkshire Wildlife Park