The National Zoo's Wild Canid Project focuses on studying the biology of wild canids to improve reproductive success and to maintain self-sustaining zoo and wild populations.
From the two-pound fennec fox that survives the rigors of Arabian deserts to the 175-pound gray wolf that ranges throughout the wild reaches of the Northern Hemisphere, canids (dog-like mammals) are a diverse and wide-ranging family of mammals.
Yet these charismatic cousins of our oldest and most faithful companion, the domestic dog, are rapidly disappearing. Seven of 36 species in the world are listed as "threatened" or "endangered," and several are near extinction due to habitat loss, illegal hunting, and disease.
Yet, compared to other carnivores (wild cats and bears), canids receive less public and conservation attention. And amazingly, the reproductive biology of wild canids (the essence of their survival) continues to be a mystery.
As natural wild canid populations become increasingly threatened, self-sustaining ex situ (zoo) populations become essential to securing species persistence. For unknown reasons, zoo populations of wild canids (including the maned wolf, African wild dog, and bush dog) breed poorly.
Understanding the reproductive physiology of these species provides clues to successful breeding and ultimately to developing healthy populations. These animals serve as "insurance" for wild canid populations while helping to educate the public and providing critical biological data.
Unfortunately, there is limited scholarly information about wild canids. Therefore, we focus studies on these species’ physiology, including how to reverse low reproductive success.