The mysteries of the Dhole

Originating from East Asia, the Asian Wild Dog otherwise known as the dhole is one of the most mysterious breeds of canines within the wild. Over the centuries the dhole has faced scrutiny and prejudice, much like their close relatives, the wolves. However as we begin to learn more about them, their social structures and their behaviours, the myths start to shatter, and the truth comes to light.

Little is written about the dhole, or Cuon Alpinus, as there have only ever been a few sightings that have been recorded. The average size of the dhole is 90cm in length and having a shoulder height of around 50 cm, they resemble the size of a typical domestic Border Collie dog. Their bodies, other than the underside and chest are covered with rustic fur, which blends into the forest surroundings making it even harder to spot. With markings so unique to this canine, it ‘s hard to separate them from the 3 subspecies, which are all similar is size and appearance.

However, when the wild dogs have been spotted, it has been recorded that they are very sociable animals living in small packs of 6 to 10, while some packs can reach up to the size of 40 or even more.

The sizes of the packs depend on what food is available and how their habitat is faring. It has been logged that unlike their wolves, these canine’s packs will let the young cubs eat first when it comes to a kill and not leave them to last like wolves are known to do. Dholes are noted for their unusual communication skills, as they converse via high pitch yelps that are often said to be like a bird whistle.

The species can thrive in many different environments, from forests, savannahs to jungles; to any habitat, the dholes can hunt food. But the more frequent sightings have been in Asia. The various of hunting grounds provide different prey, from scavenging berries and grubs to hunting rabbits, lizards and animals considerably larger than themselves, such as deer, wild goats, sheep, gaur (the Indian bison) and banteng (the wild cattle that roams within Asia).

Hunting is a time when the family unit is at their strongest. Sometimes the hunt will include most of the family when tackling large prey. But if the prey is smaller the canine has been known to hunt in twos or go alone.

Techniques used in pursuit of the prey have shown the pack opts for splitting into groups while chasing their target. One group will chase the animal, while the next group will head the animal off by running a different route, then jump out once the prey runs by.

Unlike many wild canines, the dhole does not grab the thoat they are acknowledged for running with the animal, biting and ripping flesh, until the prey can no longer stand causing it to fall and then be devoured alive by the pack.

Being the small size they are, it would be understandable to believe that the dhole has a lot of natural enemies, but it is, in fact, the opposite. Reports state that packs have killed tigers. However much research is still needed to determine whether this statement is more myth that fact, as scientists have found the dhole to be part of a leopard’s diet, which are considerably smaller than the tiger.

Although they are known for living in the forest of China and Indian, the dhole is also native to many other countries; Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand and more. Unfortunately, as these countries become more popularised by humans, much of the dogs’ original homelands are lost, causing them to expand their territory, leading to conflict with civilisation.

As the destruction of their native home continues, they begin to lose their prey and hunt what is available, normally livestock. This is turn provokes humans to poison the leftover carcas, or leave traps in hope to kill the wild dog and project their cattle.

Other threats contributing to the loss of the species are domestic dogs living in the towns, cities and forest. The feral dogs bring diseases such as rabies and mange that the dhole has no natural immunity to, sometimes resulting in the decimation of an entire pack. These threats continue to kill many individuals making them, now endangered as released by the IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) in 2015.

Although conservationists are working hard to save the dhole from extinction, the public can also work towards making a change to the species. One way to make a difference is by buying sustainable palm oil.Along with providing awareness about the dhole and the life it lives. Although these are small acts, it could be the beginning of saving one of Asia’s last carnivores, replenishing the species.

Cover image by Wildlife Alliance –