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- Dhole (Cuon alpinus) is a wild carnivorous animal and is a member of the family Canidae and the class Mammalia.
- They are also known as Asiatic wild dog, Asian Wild Dog, Indian wild dog, whistling dog, and red dog.
- It is a social animal that lives in a clan of usually twelve individuals.
- Historically, dholes purportedly occurred throughout southern Russia, all across central Asia, south Asia and southeast Asia.
- According to recent research and current distribution maps, they are restricted to south and southeast Asia, with the northernmost populations in China.
- In India, they are found in three clusters across India namely the Western and Eastern Ghats, central Indian landscape and North East India.
- Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh rank high in the conservation of the endangered dhole in India, according to a study (2020).
- Ecological role:
- Dholes play an important role as apex predators in forest ecosystems.
Conservation Status of Dholes
- IUCN List of Threatened Species: Endangered
- Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): Appendix II
- Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 : Schedule II
Features of Dholes
- Dhole combines the physical features of the gray wolf and the red fox. It has a long backbone and slender limbs like a cat.
- It has a wide and massive head giving it a hyena-like appearance.
- Adult females weigh 10 to 17 kg whereas adult males weigh 15 to 21 kg.
- The general tone of the fur is reddish. However, the brightest hues might occur in winter.
- The throat, chest, flanks, and belly and the upper parts of the limbs have a slightly yellowish tone.
- The tail is fluffy with a brown tip.
- They produce a whistling sound and are thus called whistling dogs. They can also whine, chatter, growl, scream, and have yapping cries. Notably, Dholes do not bark or howl like wolves.
- Dhole lives in a clan of 5 to 12 individuals instead of packs (groups that always hunt together). However, clans of 40 individuals have also been reported in some places.
- They are more social than wolves and intragroup fighting is rarely observed. They do not mark their territory like other canids.
- Dhole clans can contain more than one breeding female (unlike wolf clans). Moreover, more than one female can den and rear their litters together in the same den.
- The gestation period of the species is usually 60 to 63 days, with litter sizes averaging four to six pups. The litters remain at the den site for 70 to 80 days.
- They are diurnal hunters and hunt in the early hours of the morning.
- They can tolerate scavengers in their kill. The mother and children are provided regurgitated food by other pack members.
- Prey animals for Dholes in India are Sambar deer, Chital, Wild Boar, Water Buffaloes, Cattle, Goats, Monkeys, etc.
- Dholes do not attack humans and can eat lizards and insects. They can also eat fruits and vegetables.
- They have dietary overlap with Tigers and Leopards. However, competition is avoided through prey selection.
- It should be noted that Dhole packs are smaller in areas with higher tiger densities as tigers can directly kill dholes in a single paw strike.
- Dholes can suffer from various diseases like rabies, canine distemper, etc.
Why is their Population Decreasing?
- Ongoing habitat loss: Due to deforestation and fragmentation of forest corridors.
- Depletion of prey base: Ungulates are the main prey of dholes whose population is rapidly decreasing due to excessive hunting and habitat loss.
- Persecution due to livestock predation and disease transfer from domestic and feral dogs.
- Dholes are protected under Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
- The first Dhole conservation breeding centre is at the Indira Gandhi Zoological Park, Visakhapatnam (sanctioned in 2014).
Dholes in Indian Culture:
- In the coping stone of Bharhut Stupa (100 BC), three dhole-like creatures are seen waiting by a tree with a woman/spirit.