Monotypic Species - The Dhole
The dhole (Asiatic Wild Dog, Red Dog) is another of those species which is the only representative in a particular genus. In the case of the dhole, the genus is Cuon. The dhole (Cuon alpinus) is a species of dog which is endemic to South and South-east Asia. The Cuon genus differs from the more common dog genus, Canid, by having a shorter jaw, one less molar on each side of the lower jaw and a greater number of nipples.
Dholes were once found through most of South, East and South-east Asia. It is thought they still occupy North Korea. They are also found south of the Ganges, in north-east India and occasionally reported in parts of Kashmir and on the steppes of Siberia. In Bhutan, the population is recovering and there are pockets of dholes in Thailand, Vietnam, Java and protected areas of Sumatra. In Myanmar they have replaced tigers as the main predators of the country.
Dholes favour forested areas, either dry deciduous, moist deciduous or tropical rain forest. They can also be found on meadows and steppes. They are quite adaptable and can survive
The dhole has a relatively short but massive skull and a rather convex profile. The musculature gives the face a hyena-like appearance. A unique feature is the presence of six instead of the more usual seven lower molars. The ears are rounded rather than pointed. Females have 12 to 14 teats. The hooded eyes are amber in colour.
The legs are moderately long and finely boned. They are great jumpers and can leap 10 to 12 feet in the air. They are also competent swimmers. The tails are long (16 to 17 inches) and almost half the length of the body which ranges from 35 to 44 inches. The height at the shoulder is 17 to 22 inches. They weigh from 22 to 55 pounds with males being 9 or 10 pound heavier than females.
The colour varies from sandy yellow through rusty red to dark grey depending on the region. Usually the fur is a reddish colour with the winter coat being brighter in tone. Guard hairs on the coat measure 20 to 30 mm. The winter coat is a rusty red with brown highlights on the top of the head, neck and shoulders. The undersurfaces are more yellow and the lower limbs creamy. There are dark brown bands on the fronts of the forelimbs. The muzzle and forehead are a grey-red. The fluffy black tail has a dark brown tip and is very luxuriant, particularly in winter. The summer coat is shorter and darker.
The dhole is highly social and lives in large clans. There are few overt signs of domination among dholes. Territorial issues do not arise with pups readily moving to another clan as they mature. Defecation takes place at communal toilet sites and doesn't appear to be connected with marking out a territory.
Dholes have a range of vocalisations. By using a whistling type call, the dholes are able to re-assemble if they become separated in dense jungle areas. Captive dholes have a lifespan of at least 15 years.
Any of the deer species such as sambar and muntjac may fall prey to the dhole. Wild boar, water buffalo, hares, goats and rats are also taken. They are happy to take fruit and vegetable items and in captivity will eat various herbage, as food rather than as medicine. Dholes have not been known to attack humans.
Dholes often form smaller packs to hunt which they do by engaging in extended chases then disembowelling the exhausted prey. Unlike most canids they let the pups eat first at a kill. Dholes are wary of humans but not afraid to tackle such dangerous prey as wild boar, water buffalo and even tigers.
A prehunt social ritual is carried out. Dholes hunt primarily during daylight or on moonlit nights, suggesting that they rely on sight. One group will pursue the prey while the rest follow steadily. Then the second group will take over. They can reach 30 mph at top speed and often drive their quarry into water where manoeuvrability is more difficult.
One animal will go for the nose while the rest pull the animal down by the flanks and hindquarters. They do not go for the throat although they sometimes blind the animal.
In India, the mating season is from mid-October to January. Gestation lasts around 61 days and litters average 4 to 6 pups. The pups grow rapidly but suckle for at least 58 days. For this period, the clan brings food back to the mother at the den. Once weaning begins, all adults will regurgitate food for the pups until they begin to go out to hunt with the clan at around 70 to 80 days old. By 8 months of age, the pups are helping kill large prey.
Dens may be simple remodelled earth dens or complex cavernous dens, possibly interconnected with others in the area. Dens are often placed under dense scrub or on the banks of dry riverbeds. Then entrance may be almost vertical with an acute turn some 3 to 4 feet down, opening into an antechamber. There may be up to six entrances and 100 feet of connecting tunnels.
Where dholes are sharing habitat with other canid species, they are vulnerable to a number of diseases including rabies, distemper, mange, canine parovirus and endoparasites. Persecution of the dhole still occurs in some areas with more or less vigour depending on the circumstances.
Dholes are classified as endangered by the IUCN. Habitat loss, depletion of prey stocks, competition for food, persecution and disease are the main problems faced by the dhole.
In India, dholes were hunted for bounties until the implementation of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The flesh of the dhole is not eaten and the fur is not considered valuable except by the Chinese who prized coats made from the winter pelts.
There is a great need for more information on this animal so that helpful strategies can be put in place to ensure its survival.