CINCINNATI -- It's not even Zoo Babies season yet, but the Cincinnati Zoo has blessed us early: A bundle of sweet balls of fluff were born to African painted dogs Imara and Kwasi.
And they are SO. CUTE. (see proof below)
The puppies were born mid-October, and zookeepers shared puppies' "cheesy" names on Wednesday -- Nacho, Muenster, Bleu, Brie, Gouda, Queso, Colby, Swiss, Cojita, Mozzarella and Feta. Nacho and Muenster are males; the rest are females.
“The only thing our primary painted dog keepers love as much as dogs is cheese," said Christina Gorsuch, vice coordinator of the African painted dog survival plan.
Imara actually gave birth to 12 puppies, but one died.
In Jan. 2015, Imara had 10 puppies, but this is her first litter with Kwasi. Imara and Kwasi are the alphas of the pack, according to the zoo, but another female named Lucy and Masai, Kwasi's brother, are also part of the pack and may help rear the pups.
“The social structure of African painted dogs is built around the raising of pups," Gorsuch said. "The entire pack works together to ensure that the female and her pups have everything they need to succeed and survive. Just like in the wild, the members of our pack will help Imara by guarding the den box, regurgitating meat, and babysitting the pups when Imara leaves the den."
Right now, the puppies are black with white markings. Gorsuch said some portions of the pups' black fur will begin to turn gold when they are 6-8 weeks old.
"These unique markings will help keepers identify each pup for future vaccinations, physical exams and day-to-day care," Gorsuch said. "They will eventually learn their names, which will allow keepers to train them individually."
African painted dogs are one of the most endangered carnivores on the continent, the zoo said in a press release. There are approximately 139 African painted dogs in North American zoos, with 15 residing at the Cincinnati Zoo.