John Lemon quit his job, cashed in his super, bid his wife farewell and moved to Zimbabwe to build the world's largest African Painted Dog rehabilitation centre.
Unrelated to domestic canines, the painted dogs have their own genus reaching back more than 13 million years.
One hundred years ago, 500,000 painted dogs roamed 39 African countries but now less than 6000 remain in the wild, largely in the continent's south.
Urban development, poacher's snares, farming and diseases such as parvo-virus have slashed dog numbers.
The most social carnivore in the world, a painted dog pack will care for their injured, nursing them back to health and sharing food if they are unable to hunt for themselves.
Known for being brutally efficient hunters, showing off their softer side has attracted tourists and funding to their cause, Mr Lemon said.
As a child, he was enchanted by the story of painted pup Solo, who was found and raised by wildlife photographer Hugo Van Lawick-Goodall, husband of famed scientist Jane Goodall.
Obsession with the dogs is "like a virus", Mr Lemon told AAP.
He ran the African Painted Dog breeding program at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in NSW until 2002, when he decided to jump into hands-on conservation.
"I said to my wife 'is it okay if I quit work and take the super?' and she said 'I support you fully'."
Moving to Zimbabwe, he built and ran a rehabilitation centre and founded Painted Dog Conservation Incorporated to raise funds for its upkeep.
In less than 15 years, the NGO has raised about $1.5 million and supports six projects across Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia including anti-poaching patrols, tracking collars and conservation education.
He now splits his time between Africa and his work as curator of operations at Perth Zoo, where a litter of 11 painted pups was born earlier this year.
"If I can do one thing in my life, it's save the African Painted Dog from extinction," Mr Lemon said.