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Dr. Rasmussen Responds to African Painted Dog Tragedy

Last year Dr. Gregory Rasmussen, founder and director of the Painted Dog Conservation Project (PDC), treated Wolf Conservation Center supporters to an educational and inspirational lecture about his life’s passion, the African Painted Dog. Painted Dogs, also known as African Wild Dogs, are unique to Africa and they are among the continent’s most endangered species. For MILLIONS of years this unique predator thrived throughout most of the continent. Over the past few centuries, however, painted dogs were persecuted so heavily that by the mid-1900’s most African countries were void of this beautiful canid. Sounds familiar, huh? In the 1970s, as few as 300 or so dogs were struggling to survive with resilient populations only living in and around a handful of African National Parks.

Over the past twenty years, the PDC has made great strides on behalf of the organization’s namesake. Sadly, their latest work has been in response to a tragic event that took place earlier this month at the Pittsburgh Zoo. A two-year-old boy was killed after falling into the Zoo’s African painted dog exhibit. As we are tasked with educating people about the wolf, one of the most misunderstood predators in the northern hemisphere, we feel compelled to share Dr. Rasmussen’s comment re: the recent tragedy at the Pittsburgh Zoo:

“Like lions, tigers, and bears etc, Painted Dogs are a predator and are wired that way. Behaviorally in the wild there never has been a case of Painted Dogs ever attacking man and were I to suddenly appear in the wild all the dogs would alarm call and run away. The same incidentally applies to most predators that are truly wild to include wolves and the same has been my experience with lions in Zimbabwe where they detect you and avoid you. Whilst there are exceptions to every rule generally this is the case. Predators that have no experience of habituation avoid humans, those that have close contact with humans have a familiarity and no fear. This is why hand raised lions for example should never be released into the wild and I believe that even the very special conservationist George Adamson felt the same way and did not advocate for hand raised lions to be released into the wild, as animals become imprinted and imprinting cannot be removed. 

Therefore in the specific case of Pittsburgh, in reality it has nothing to do with pack mentality, were it a solitary lion, tiger or bear the outcome I am sure would have inevitably been the same. This is of course much the same as if a person crossed the barrier on a motorway, fell of a bridge etc the result would be inevitable as they would be entering a dangerous space.  

So overall I would like you to point out that there has NEVER been an attack in the wild, and that these are extraneous circumstances. I would also like you to highlight that my condolences are with the family, the zoo and those that have had to deal with this appalling incident. Though wildlife must be ranked as the smallest contributor to human death, sadly accidents happen and when they do they are tragic.”

Are hearts go out to the boy’s family and the caretakers at the Zoo. We hope that this isolated incident does not impede the recovery of these zoo animals’ wild counterparts.