A golden retriever named "Lilly" is helping save a litter of endangered African wild dogs born at the Oklahoma City Zoo by becoming their surrogate mother.
The puppies, one male and two females, were born on Friday, November 7 to mother Xena, a three-year-old female and likely father Juma, a two-year-old male. Xena, an inexperienced mother, showed a lack of maternal care and the Zoo's animal care team made the decision to remove them, according to zoo officials.
“In preparation for this birth, we have been monitoring Xena 24/7 by video. We know that she is an unproven mother and wanted to be ready to intervene if necessary,” said Laura Bottaro, animal curator. “We are hopeful that these dogs will thrive in Lilly's care and when they reach an appropriate age for socialization we will be able to successfully reintroduce them to their pack.”
Zoo caregivers provided around-the-clock care for the puppies and started the process to find a surrogate mother for the litter. They initiated calls to colleagues, animal shelters and dog rescue groups to find a lactating domestic dog proven to be a good mother and comfortable with people.
Lilly, a retired search and rescue dog living in Wichita, Kansas, was able to fulfill the role of surrogate mother for these African wild dogs. According to officials, Lilly recently gave birth to a single puppy that is being raised alongside the African wild dog pups. The puppies are doing well and will remain under veterinary care and out of public view at the Zoo's animal hospital.
“Even though Lilly's not an African wild dog, she's still much better suited to surrogate for our pups than humans would be,” said Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Jennifer D'Agostino. “This is a positive for both Lilly's offspring and the African wild dogs as they will benefit from initial socialization with a canine species.”