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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Zoo Miami is showing off its adorable new residents, a litter of highly endangered African Painted Dog puppies.

African Painted Dog puppy at Zoo Miami. (Zoo Miami/Ron Magill)

The litter of one male and four females was born on January 23.  Since their birth, they have been in seclusion in a den with their mother.

This is the first litter of pups for the 2-year-old mother named “Little Foot.” That is why the zoo took such extreme caution to ensure the mother and puppies were not disturbed for the first several weeks.

Little Foot arrived at Zoo Miami in 2017 from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. The first time father’s name is “Evander” and he was born at the Perth Zoo in Australia in May of 2011. He arrived at Zoo Miami in November of 2015 via Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

GALLERY: ZOO MIAMI REVEALS LITTER OF ENDANGERED AFRICAN PAINTED DOG PUPPIES

Until now, mother and puppies have been observed through a closed circuit television camera.  After it was felt that the mom was doing an excellent job of caring for her puppies and everything was progressing normally, the decision was made to do the neonatal exams on each of them on Wednesday.  This was the first time that anyone had been able to handle the puppies to perform a variety of procedures including collecting blood, general physical exams, deworming treatment, and the placement of a microchip for identification.  At six weeks of age, the puppies ranged in weight from 6 – 7.5 pounds.

Following the exams, the puppies were given access to the exhibit with their mother and father for the first time.  After initial trepidation, they followed their mother out onto the habitat.  Though the father showed extreme interest, the mother did not allow him to get close to the puppies so he observed them intently from a distance as they stayed close to mom and explored.

African Painted Dog puppy at Zoo Miami. (Zoo Miami/Ron Magill)

Eventually, some of the puppies went into an area that required assistance from the staff to get out of but this is all a learning process for the puppies and they are expected to have limited exhibit access each day under close observation until they have learned to navigate the exhibit without any issues.

With less than 6,000 individuals left in the wild, the African painted dog is one of the most endangered carnivores on the continent.  Found in isolated pockets of Eastern and Southern Africa, they occur in packs that can range from six to over 20 individuals.  They are cooperative hunters, which experience one of the highest success rates of any of the major carnivores.  Only the alpha pair reproduce within the pack and the female can have as many as 20 puppies, which are all raised cooperatively by the other pack members.  As cooperative hunters, they are able to take down prey much larger than themselves such as wildebeests and other large antelope.  Other prey species include warthogs and smaller antelope such as impala and gazelles.

The largest threats to the African painted dogs are being shot by landowners who consider them a threat to their livestock, fragmented habitat, and disease transmission such as rabies and distemper that is introduced by domestic dogs.

These are the first successful births of these endangered carnivores at Zoo Miami in nearly 20 years and are a very important part of a carefully planned breeding program to help ensure the survival of these animals. A puppy naming opportunity is coming zoo.

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