A hero has stepped up to the challenge of helping the Oklahoma City Zoo save their litter of endangered African Wild Dog Pups. The hero is a golden retriever named Lily who has become their surrogate mum after their real mother lacked the ability to care for them. In her previous life Lily was a search and rescue dog.

lily

On November 7 a litter of 1 male and 2 female was born at the zoo to a three year old female named Xena and a 2 year old male Juma. Xena was an in experienced mother and keepers saw that she lacked maternal care. As such the zoo’s animal curator, Laura Bottaro said that, “In preparation for this birth, we have been monitoring Xena 24/7 by video. We know that she is an unproven mother and wanted to be ready to intervene if necessary.”

In the end keepers made the decision that Xena was not prepared to raise the cubs and placed them with Lily. Zoo caregivers took on caring for the cubs round the clock as they worked with colleagues, animal shelters and dog rescue groups to help find a suitable surrogate mother. Lily is a retired search and rescue dog from Kansas who had a puppy of her own so could provide milk for the pups. Her puppy continues to live as part of this new pack.

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The zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino said, “Even though Lilly’s not an African wild dog, she’s still much better suited to surrogate for our pups than humans would be. This is a positive for both Lilly’s offspring and the African wild dogs as they will benefit from initial socialization with a canine species.”

While working with a surrogate is new to staff at Oklahoma City Zoo it has been used a few times now by other zoos which are part of the African Wild Dog Species Survival Plan (SSP). This program managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums managed the moves of Xena and Juma to the zoo in 2013 so they could breed. Xena moved to Oklahoma from Pittsburgh while Juma moved there from Kansas.

The African Wild Dog is said to be critically endangered with only 3,000-5,000 of them roaming the wilds of Africa. They face threats from habitat fragmentation, road casualties, poisoning and distemper being spread by domestic dogs.

Zoo staff are hopeful these pups will return to the pack and help save their species with Bottaro saying, “We are hopeful that these dogs will thrive in Lilly’s care and when they reach an appropriate age for socialization we will be able to successfully reintroduce them to their pack.”

Photo Credits: Oklahoma City Zoo

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