As the New Year dawned, the Houston Zoo bid a sad but fond farewell to Aries, one of our three African painted dogs. Twelve year old Aries had lived at the Houston Zoo with pack mates Mikita, his nephew, and Blaze, his brother since their arrival from the Bronx Zoo in 2009.
Painted dogs are incredibly social creatures, and they are known to mourn. As Aries’s health declined due to his advanced years, his nephew Mikita, the alpha male of the pack, took care of Aries by making sure that Aries received his share of the food. Mikita also slept next to Aries during this time, a behavior that is common within painted dog packs.
Aries was the most vocal member of his pack, often growling a few short “barks” at his keepers while he was eating. One of the most communicative social carnivores, vocalizing is very important in painted dog packs. The number of vocalizations they produce is thought to be second only to dolphins.
Aries was a distinguished ambassador for his counterparts in the wild. He represented all the African painted dogs the Houston Zoo works to save. The Zoo partners with an organization called Painted Dog Conservation, which rehabilitates sick and injured painted dogs in Zimbabwe and reintroduces them back into the wild.