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It's a dog's life

8 August 2013

In this month’s animal profile we take a walk on the wild side with African Wild Dog Keeper Katherine Quinn, who gave us a glimpse into the life of eight year old, Swirl. One of five sisters at Werribee Open Range Zoo, Swirl is one of the elders of the wild dog pack and is easily picked out by her pale colour and distinctive swirl on her chest.

Swirl was born at Monarto Zoo in South Australia in the same litter as alpha female Dee. But despite being below her sister on the pecking order, Swirl has learnt to use her smarts and wily ways to get what she wants, even tricking her keepers on occasion to get more food and special treats. While she always appears to respect the group hierarchy, her keepers often wonder what plan she is plotting next.

African Wild Dogs are incredibly social animals and they live as a pack, which is highly organised and tightly knit, although not without its squabbles. Each pack is led by an alpha male and alpha female and at Werribee Open Range Zoo, that’s Dee.

Swirl knows her place in the group but is not one to miss out on the opportunity for a good feed, especially if it’s something she can gnaw on for hours. She loves digging holes with her sisters and will curl up with them at night, if they’re in a good mood!

In the wild, African Wild Dogs are mostly limited to southern Africa and the southern part of east Africa. Populations have diminished in the face of human activity and habitat loss as well as infectious disease. There is an estimated 5,500 African Wild Dogs remaining in the wild and they are classed as ‘endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN ‘red list’).