Painted Dogs (African wild dogs) are lithe, long-limbed canids with huge ears, white-tipped tails and dark facial features. In addition to these shared characteristics, each dog also has its own unique coat markings – ideal for an artist aiming to hide a conservation message in a painting. This dog’s coat hides the outline of Africa, with the entire continent tilted to the left, and the tip of South Africa on the dogs belly. Within the continent, some regions are painted in darker shades of red and orange – southern and East Africa; a band of land south of the Sahara Desert; and several elevated areas in North Africa – showing the approximate range of painted dogs in 1900. Look even closer and you will see small white and yellow shapes in southern and East Africa – indicating the area occupied by free-ranging packs of dogs today.
The dog is painted in reds and oranges, colors which are associated with alarm, and consistent with their listing on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Since 1900, dogs have been extirpated from 25 of the 39 countries forming their historical range, and their numbers have declined by 99%, plunging to approximately 5000 individuals today. What caused these drastic reductions? Persecution by ranchers, pastoralists, and in earlier times, also game rangers; accidental deaths on roads; accidental deaths by snaring (in snares set to catch other species); rabies and distemper caught from domestic dogs in rural areas; a reduction in wild prey due to the bush-meat trade. There is one common theme – human presence. For this reason, there are 2 more elements hidden in the dog’s coat – a human footprint (to the right of the Africa outline) and a human handprint (near his elbow, with fingers pointing downwards).
Humans have pushed painted dogs to the edge of extinction, but these dogs are survivors and are able to overcome many obstacles, just as the dog in this painting is able to leap the wash of painted color. If we remove some of these man-made obstacles, perhaps these endangered canids can not only survive, but thrive.
Man’s Best Friend? acrylic on canvas, 24×30”, $3500, by Alison Nicholls ©2016.
40% of sale proceeds will be donated to Painted Dog Research Trust in Zimbabwe.