It is no secret that my favourite animals are dogs especially their cousins the wolf. Their loyalty and love have no bounds, whether it be with humans on within a pack.
But, what I love about dogs is that they are not just our best buds, which we share our homes with, but they are part of a larger group of canines that cover many different species. All of which I have fallen in love with, from the African Wild Dog to the Racoon Dog. But one of my favourite is one of the least known about; The Dhole.
Originating from East Asia, the Asian Wild Dog otherwise known as the dhole is one of the most mysterious breed of canine within the wild. Over the centuries the dhole has faced scrutiny and prejudice, much like their close relatives. However, as environmentalist and scientists 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. But when they have been spotted, it has been documented that the average size of the dhole is 90cm in length while having a shoulder height of around 50 cm, resembling the size of a typical 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 more difficult to spot. With markings so unique to this canine, it is difficult to separate them from the 3 subspecies, which are all similar in size and appearance.
When the wild dogs have been spotted, it has been noted 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, however, this depends on what food is available. Unlike their relatives the wolves, these canine packs will let the young cubs eat first from a kill and not leave them to last. Dholes are also different to other canines due to their unusual communication skills, as they converse via high pitch yelps, like a bird’s whistle.
The species can thrive in many different environments, from forests, savannahs to jungles; to any habitat that the dholes can hunt food in. But the more frequent sightings have been in Asia. The variety of hunting grounds provide these dogs with different prey. They can scavenge berries and grubs while also 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, they will often 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 pursue the animal, while the next group will head the animal off by running a different route.
Unlike many wild canines, the dhole does not grab the throat and then strangle the animal to death, but are said to run 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 have stated that packs have killed tigers, possibly for food. However much research is still needed to determine whether this statement is more myth than reality.
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 homeland is 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 pray and hunt what is available, usually livestock. This provokes humans to poison the leftover carcasses, or leave traps in hope to kill the dogs and project their cattle.
Other threats contributing to the loss of the species are domestic dogs living among 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 placing them as endangered as released by the IUCN (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 positive change for the species. One way to make a difference is by buying sustainable palm oil products, 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.
Images uses are creative commons on Flickr