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The dhole (also known as the Asiatic Wild Dog, Indian Wild Dog and the Red Dog) is an endangered wild dog native to the jungles of Asia. Although the dhole is very similar in appearance to the African Wild dog and the Bush dog, the dhole is the only member of it’s genus.
Historically, the dhole was found though East and Southern Asia, from the Russian far east right down to Sumatra, and although today the range of the dhole has been significantly reduced, the dhole inhabits a wide variety of habitats including thick, deciduous woodlands to jungles and tropical rainforests.
There are three different species of dhole that are very similar in characteristics and only really differ in location and fur colour. Although a dominant predator within their environment, the dhole populations have been heavily affected by disease introduced by domesticated animals such as cats and dogs.
Like other medium-sized canines, the dhole is a highly sociable animal that spends it’s life as part of a pack. The dhole is well-known for the vocal calls that it uses to communicate with it’s pack. It is said that the repetitive whistles of the dhole are so distinctive that individuals animals can be easily identified by their calls.
The dhole is a carnivorous and fairly dominant predator within it’s natural environment, working as part of a pack to try and bring down larger prey to feed the whole group. The majority of the dhole’s diet however is made of smaller animals including lizards, frogs and rodents.
Due to the dominant nature of the dhole and the fact that it often has protection from it’s pack, there are few animals that are of any threat to the dhole in the wild. Large wild cats such as tigers and leopards are the only natural predators of the dhole, as the biggest threat to the world’s dhole populations has been from humans.
After breeding, female dholes give birth to between 5 and 12 pups after a two month long gestation period. Dhole pups grow rapidly and are cared for by both their parents, and by other adult dholes in the pack. The dhole pups begin to hunt when they are a few months old and reach adult size by the time they are about a year and a half old.
Today, the dhole is endangered in the wild as populations have been reduced to less than 2,000 individuals across their native territories. The main reason for the severe decline in the dhole population numbers is thought to be through habitat loss and hunting from humans.
The Dhole (Cuon alpinus), also known as the Asiatic Wild Dog, Indian Wild Dog or Red Dog is a mammal of the order Carnivora, and the only member of the genus Cuon.
The Dhole bears many physical similarities to the African Wild Dog and the Bush Dog, most notably in the redundancy of the post-carnassial molars, though whether this is an example of convergence or close relationship is a matter of debate.
The Dhole typically weighs 12-20 kilograms (26-44 pounds) and measures 90 centimeters (35 inches) in body length and 50 centimeters (20 inches) shoulder height. The tail measures 40-45 centimeters (16-18 inches) in length. There is little sexual dimorphism. The Dhole has a broad, domed skull and a short, broad muzzle. The bones of the forehead and upper jaw are “swollen”, producing a dish-faced profile. The hooded eyes have amber or light brown irises, and the ears are large and rounded.
The pelage of the back and flanks is red to brown in colour, while the foreneck, chest and undersides are white or lightly gingered. The fur of specimens from southern ranges is typically short and rusty red, while that of more northern subspecies is longer and more yellow or brown in colour. Dholes from Thailand are more uniform brown, and lack the typical lighter throat and chest, while those from Himalayan regions have more yellowish fur.
Dhole dentition is unique among canids, by the fact that it has one fewer lower molars, amounting to 40 teeth rather than the more usual 42 of other species. Its lower carnassials also sport only one cusp (two is more usual for canids) an adaptation thought to improve shearing ability, thus allowing it to compete more successfully with kleptoparasites. Its front pawpads are fused at the base. Females have 6-7 pairs of mammae, as opposed to the more usual five present in other canid species. The chromosome number is 2n = 78.
The Dhole is an ice age survivor like the Gray Wolf. During the ice age, the Dhole ranged across Eurasia and North America. A canid called the Sardinian Dhole (Cynotherium sardous) lived on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia during the Pleistocene, but it is not as closely related to the living species as its name would imply.
The Dhole exploits a large variety of habitats, reflecting its adaptability. It normally inhabits dry and moist deciduous forests and thick jungles, as well as tropical rain forests, which all provide better cover for hunting. It inhabits areas of primary, secondary, degraded, evergreen, and semi-evergreen forms of vegetation, and dry thorn forests, as well as scrub-forest mosaics. It can also, however, survive in dense alpine forests, meadows and on the open steppes of Kashmir and Manchuria. As the second part of its Latin name, alpinus, suggests, the Dhole is often found in hilly or mountainous regions. The Dhole likes open spaces and during the day they can often be found on jungle roads and paths, river beds, and in jungle clearings. The Dhole inhabits in the widest range of climates in the canid family – from freezing cold to tropical heat, but is not recorded in deserts.
Factors which influence habitat include water, the presence of other large predators (competition), sufficient prey (plentiful medium to large ungulate prey species), local human population, and suitable breeding sites.
Dhole originates from South Asia. Its range is latitude: 10° South to 55° North; Longitude: 70° East to 170° East. Its historical range extended from India to China, and down to Malaysia and Indonesia, with Java as the Southern limit. In recent decades, there has been huge habitat loss in this region, and restricted surveys indicate serious decline and fragmentation of the former range.
The Dhole’s current range extends from the borders of Russia and the Altai Mountains in Manchuria (Central and Eastern Asia) to Northern and Western Pakistan to the forest tracts of India, Burma, and the Malayan Archipelago. The best remaining populations are probably to be found in Central (especially in the Highlands), Western and Northern Pakistan and Southern India.
The Dhole is primarily a diurnal hunter, though it is not uncommon for it to hunt by night too. Solitary Dholes usually limit themselves to small prey such as Chital fawns and Indian Hares, while a pair or trio of Dholes suffices to kill medium sized ungulates such as deer in 2 minutes. There is at least one account of a Dhole pack managing to pull down an Indian Elephant calf, despite ferocious defence from the mother resulting in multiple Dhole deaths. The Dhole manages to avoid competition with the Leopard and the Tiger by targetting smaller prey and hunting in daylight, unlike the nocturnal felids. The Dhole hunts by scent. It kills large prey in a manner similar to the African Wild Dog, disemboweling and eating the prey whilst it is still alive. The Dhole can eat up to 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of meat in an hour, and will compete with one another over a kill through speed of eating rather than fighting. It typically consumes the heart, liver, eyeballs, rump and fetus first. The Dhole drinks frequently after eating, and will actively search for a water source once it has eaten sufficiently. Seasonal scarcity of food is not as much an issue to the Dhole as it is to wolves, so there is less of a rigid dominance hierarchy during feeding. Unlike some canids, the Dhole does not cache its food. Though the majority of its food is obtained by hunting, it will occasionally scavenge from Leopard and Tiger kills. The Dhole has on occasion been observed hunting with pariah dogs.
Sexual dimorphism is not very distinct with no quantitative anatomical differences known. Both males and females become sexually active at one year old, though females usually breed at 2 years in captivity, and in the wild, for the first time at 3 years, possibly due to physiological and behavioural restraints. Females exhibit seasonal polyoestrus, with a cycle of around 4-6 weeks. Pups are born throughout the end of fall, winter, and the first spring months ( November – March ) – dens are earthen burrows, or are constructed amongst rocks and boulder structures, in rocky caverns, or close to streambeds. In East Java, the Dhole is thought to mate mainly between January and May. Unlike some other canid species, the Dhole does not engage in a copulatory tie when mating. Also, mating is not as restricted to certain individuals as it is in wolf packs, in which usually only the dominant pair can breed.