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The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, Wonderfully Wild. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, Wonderfully Wild.
June 1, 2022

By Mary Thomas, Assistant Conservation Scientist

During mid-May, 2022, team members of The Living Desert, including Mary Thomas, Assistant Conservation Scientist, Heather Shields, Animal Care Supervisor, and Morgan Waltrip-Bussell, Veterinary Technician, attended the International African Painted Dog Conference, held at the Endangered Wolf Center in St Louis, Missouri. There, they joined other painted dog experts from around the world to discuss animal care, social behavior factors, training trial and errors, reproductive considerations, and best practices learned from decades of field experience. As a proud collaborator in African painted dog SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) and home to two recent, large, and healthy litters of African painted dog puppies, The Living Desert was an important presenter in the conversation.

"One of the best aspects was that we were all able to attend in person," said Mary Thomas, Assistant Conservation Scientist at The Living Desert. "The air was buzzing with energy, fueled by our common passion and interests." 

Heather Shields, Animal Care Supervisor at The Living Desert, presents on African Painted Dog social dynamics. 


At the conference, The Living Desert joined fellow professionals such as Dr. Greg Rasmussen, Founder and Director of the Painted Dog Research Trust in Zimbabwe, Wilton Nsimango, from the Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe, Tiko McNutt, from Wild Entrust in Kenya, and  Regina Mossotti, Director of Animal Care and Conservation at the Endangered Wolf Center.  Among the many lessons shared,  topics included conservation engagement in local communities, the survival success of packs in Africa, and the future of painted dogs and our role in it. 

Back at The Living Desert, our team was reunited with Dr. Rasmussen, who presented a new initiative to address the wildlife mortalities across roads in Zimbabwe. He spoke on the intricacy of pack dynamics, road traffic effects on the painted dog population, and the detrimental effects on wildlife of speeding drivers on the Kazungula Road. This road is located in Northern Zimbabwe and is the only road that gives drivers the ability to travel east to west from Victoria Falls to Botswana. The high mortality rate along this road is one that The Living Desert also feels passionately about addressing and ending. Last year, The Living Desert's conservation team, teamed up with Dr. Rasmussen, and the Columbus Zoo to create an informative pamphlet and billboard for Zimbabwe law enforcement. The pamphlet is designed to educate drivers on the wildlife that inhabits either side of this road, while also including a simple survey in the event that the driver is involved in a wildlife collision. Once Zimbabwe police and officials and the Painted Dog Research Trust finalize their operating procedure, these pamphlets will be printed and dispersed to drivers. During the St. Louis conference, Mary Thomas hosted a presentation summarizing the work on Kazungula road.

"I would like to thank my pack from The Living Desert and the Endangered Wolf Center,  along with their supporters, for making these  new connections possible, fueling our  passions, and giving the conference attendees the opportunity to stay abreast with the latest techniques of African painted dog conservation," reflected Mary Thomas.  

The Living Desert continues to work hard to protect and conserve the African painted dog and proudly supports research and initiatives that increase the survival and well-being of these highly social canids.

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