WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society is investigating the flooding of its bush dog habitat and the presumed death of two bush dogs.
“They are one of a few mammal species at the Zoo that burrows, and when water started rising in their home, they likely went underground where they sleep,” said Jan Steele, the Zoo’s director of wildlife care and conservation.
The discovery was made early Monday morning when zookeepers perform routine checks of the animals. The remainder of the day was spent excavating the area and investigating every possible scenario.
“We immediately pumped out all the water in the habitat and excavated every burrow. Basically, after an entire day of digging, we were unable to dig any deeper without putting the infrastructure of the habitat in jeopardy.”
Zoo officials thoroughly combed the habitat and surrounding fences for holes and tufts of fur or scratch marks, which may have indicated the dogs tried to climb a fence. Crews from Gast Construction Group also assisted with the search, bringing in machinery to dig in hard to reach areas.
“Given the natural behaviors of this species, I can’t fathom any way they could have left the habitat. It’s more likely that in this situation they would burrow deeper, which would cause the water to flow in and the burrow to collapse.”
Bush dogs are skittish, shy and only eat small rodents and lizards. They are very timid and will run away from just about anyone.
“Understandably, the Zoo staff is heartbroken. They have worked long and hard to develop relationships with these dogs and the loss is devastating.”
Zoo officials contacted Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission immediately, and officials with USDA to report the presumed deaths and ongoing investigation.
“Given how skittish the dogs were when we didn’t find them in initial searches, we set out their favorite food items to see if they would come out with no one around.”
While both Lily and Carino had individual identification microchips, Zoo officials say you have to be within a foot of the animal to read the chip, and they were unable to get that close during excavations of the habitat.
The Zoo is now home to two bush dogs, a breeding pair, Osito and Dolly. In the midst of one tragedy, another was averted.
During an exam Wednesday, Dolly appeared to suffer a stroke. Immediately Zoo staff called in a cardiologist and neurologist to set up a treatment regime, which included acupuncture by Dr. Cara Pillitteri, the Zoo’s resident acupuncturist and pathologist.
“At one point Wednesday, Dolly stopped breathing. Less than 24 hours later she is back with her mate Osito and nearly back to normal. It is a testament to the excellent medical care provided by the Zoo.”