Have you heard about African painted dogs? Their spotted coats and large ears may make you think of hyenas, but they’re actually closer to wild dogs. These predators have been saddled with a reputation for cruelty, and are often poisoned by farmers or shot by livestock herders. As a result, they are now on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
But these canids have a guardian angel in England. The Aspinall Foundation, a British charity that fights to protect threatened species, is the European studbook holder for painted dogs. It runs the Port Lympne Reserve near Dover, which is home to several packs of painted dogs—the first ones to be born and raised in the United Kingdom. Seven packmates, including Five, the alpha male, were first taken to Luxembourg via Eurostar, then flown to Brazzaville in Congo. For the last leg of their journey, they were transported by car to their end destination, the Lékédi Park. All told, the animals travelled more than 48 hours and 7,000 km to return to their natural habitat.
Across these 14,000 hectares of protected and monitored wildland, the dogs will gradually familiarise themselves with the savannahs, forests and lakes that form their new surroundings. The pack has been settled in this enclosed habitat to observe how well they are adapting to their new living conditions. The goal of this first transfer is to study their sensitivity to local diseases and weather conditions, which are very different from England.
This event is a first, explains Damian Aspinall, Chairman of the Foundation: "This historic move could be the start of something very important to save these endangered dogs from extinction. It’s been over 25 years since painted dogs were spotted in Gabon and, whilst this is just the beginning, it would be wonderful to restore wild packs to the area in the future."
If this reintroduction is a success, other individuals of the same species may be released into Gabonese national parks. This operation is part of a wide-ranging programme to restore and reintroduce megafauna to Gabon, a joint effort between the Aspinall Foundation, the Lékédi Park, and Gabonese national parks. The programme benefits numerous emblematic species, including gorillas, chimpanzees, mandrills, forest buffalos, bushpigs and painted dogs.
Built in the 1990s, Lékédi Park practices ecotourism, aquaculture, and promotes local craftsmen. It is managed by the Société d’Exploitation du Parc de la Lékédi (SODEPAL), a subsidiary of Comilog, and collaborates with several NGOs. Experts from SODEPAL monitor this ecosystem daily, and also work with local schools to educate young children on the importance of protecting biodiversity.
- To get the full story on this incredible journey, watch this video on Youtube.