Goodbye Mama Dog

Posted April 3, 2017 by Dana Burke
Imara – Alpha female

I have been meaning to write my next dog blog for the past 2 months. The pups are getting big and their personalities are coming through but with the unexpected gift of Fiona, blogging kept getting pushed to the back burner. This one, well, this one had to be written now.

The heart of our painted dog pack, Imara, passed away from respiratory failure on Friday. We are devastated. As zookeepers, we are all aware of the life and death chances that are part of our job but the loss of our beloved alpha female is a tough one.

I have been a keeper for 20 years and have worked with a myriad of species, but these dogs…..these dogs are the loves of my life. Over half of my career has been spent focusing on Africa painted dogs. I have worked with 36 individuals and about 75% of them in my short time here in Cincinnati. Imara was definitely the most unique female with whom I have had the privilege to spend time. She was a smart dog, easy to train, and always did what I asked even when she appeared to be unsure. Imara was a spit fire, fiercely protective of her offspring and her pack. African painted dog pups have a low survival rate; I have waited for almost a decade and several alpha pairs to see a litter survive and thrive. Imara managed to successfully raise, not just one, but 2 very large litters of pups.

Imara was the force that kept everyone in line. We had one of the only successful new packs of 2 males and 2 females in the country because of her. She always knew what to do and she made sure the others did as well. We owe much of our painted dog success to her. She taught her pups how to be successful on their own and her daughters from that first litter now already have pups of their own.  So thank you Imara, we couldn’t have done this without you.

While she could be fierce, working with Imara was always very fun. She was always happy to do behaviors for treats and she was the first dog I trained to ‘gimme 5’. She loved enrichment, especially anything scented. She loved to roll in elephant poo, perfume, and catfish bait -the stinkier the better. Imara was often observed guarding her favorite food items like bones and rabbits. She even loved peanut butter and would lick it from me on those rare occasions we had one on one time.

I don’t know what the future holds for our pack. Socially, the ramifications of her passing may not be apparent right away or may never appear at all. I can tell you that Lucy is aware of the loss, and Kwasi too -the adults always notice. The pups on the other hand, well, are pups. On the surface, they are blissfully unaware, pestering the remaining adults, chewing on bones and playing together. Imara taught them to be an independent puppy pack and our remaining adults will continue to teach them how to behave as they grow up.

Moving forward, all we can do is keep on keeping on. Similar to our loss of Brahma, sire of the first litter in 2015, the Africa team will do whatever it takes to ease the transition for the remaining dogs. For now, getting this next generation to adulthood while keeping them healthy and happy will be our focus.