Wild Neighbors: Our African Painted Dogs Enjoy Enriching New Habitat, Lion Overlook

The Oklahoma City Zoo’s Lion Overlook recently had five new additions! The Zoo’s pack of African painted dogs, including one female and four males, that previously resided across from the Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital, moved to Lion Overlook on September 10. The painted dogs will reside at Lion Overlook while their brand-new habitat is constructed.

The carnivore caretaker team spent several months working to crate train the painted dogs prior to the move. The goal was to allow the dogs to move into the crates on their own and make the transfer to Lion Overlook as stress free for the animals as possible. Caretakers trained this behavior through operant conditioning and positive reinforcement during daily training sessions. This involved presenting the crate to each dog, and when the dog went into the crate they would receive some of their meat diet as reinforcement inside the crate. This allowed the painted dogs to choose whether or not they wanted to participate. The process also helped build a stronger connection between the dogs and their caretakers. Due to consistent training, the day of the move to Lion Overlook was relatively quick, minimizing stress levels for the dogs which allowed for a fast reunion with their pack mates.

Since being at Lion Overlook, the African painted dogs have been playing and eating together as a pack and have been very curious about the African lions. The pack has been learning to shift within their new building and enjoying lots of time relaxing in a secluded outdoor area off public view. The painted dogs were slowly introduced to the African lions by creating a visual barrier that allowed them to smell the lions but not see them. The caretaker team slowly removed the barrier allowing for more visual access of both species when they were inside the building.

The painted dog pack has started venturing out into the main habitat yard a few days a week, and while out, they have been scent marking and running around with each other. Depending on the day, you may see the African painted dogs or the African lions in the habitat yard so be sure to watch for these behaviors and many others.

Being able to stay in the Lion Overlook building as well as alternate habitats with the African lions is very enriching for the painted dogs and the lions. There is a lot of environmental and sensory enrichment involved by not only being able to see, hear and smell new animals, but also being able to experience a new habitat space. The Zoo’s new African painted dog habitat will also be home to cheetahs and is slated to open in summer 2021.

-- Mandi Townzen, Lead Carnivore Caretaker and Katie Templeton, Carnivore Caretaker

Photo: Mandi Townzen

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