Dhole

Common Name:
Dholes
Scientific Name:
Cuon alpinus
Type:
Mammals
Diet:
Carnivore
Average Life Span In The Wild:
10 years
Size:
About three feet long
Weight:
Between 26 to 44 pounds
IUCN Red List Status:
Endangered

What is a dhole?

Dholes, wild dogs native to Asia, are lean and lithe canines about the size of a German shepherd.

These predators have auburn fur, a black tail, amber eyes, and upright, rounded ears. Dholes—pronounced “DOLES”—are most genetically similar to African wild dogs.

Dholes live primarily in fragmented populations in southern and eastern Asia, and can adapt to many different landscapes, including forests, shrublands, and high mountain steppes. They den underground, sometimes repurposing old burrows left behind by hyenas or other animals.

The canines are very social, living in packs of various sizes, even as small as two. One study on pack size in India, which has the highest dhole population, reported that dhole packs were smaller—around six individuals—where tigers were more abundant, and larger—about 17 animals—where tigers were fewer. This suggests competition with tigers for prey keeps dhole packs smaller. 

Diet

Dholes are hypercarnivores, meaning their diet is at least 70 percent meat, including such diverse species as ibex and hare.

As cooperative hunters, groups of three to five dholes will split off the pack to hunt together. To keep in touch while hunting, the dogs use a repertoire of vocalizations that include yaps, squeaks, growls, and chatter.

They also make distinctive whistling sounds that have earned them the nickname “whistling dogs.”

Reproduction

There is usually one dominant, monogamous breeding pair in a pack. In cases with more than one breeding pair, females will den and raise their pups together. The rest of the pack does not breed, instead supporting the dominant pair and their pups, bringing them food and staying behind with the pups while others hunt.

Females go into estrus sometime between December and January, at which time the dominant couple vocalize and chase each other before mating. Gestation lasts two months, and females produce litters of between four and 10 pups.

Dholes raise their young in dens, nursing pups for six months while the clan brings food to the mother. The pups leave the den at three months and join the hunt at seven months. They reach sexual maturity after they’re a year old and begin breeding at two to three years old.

Conservation

Dholes are considered endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, with only between 949 to 2,215 adults in the wild. They’re extinct in 75 percent of their historic range, and remaining populations are isolated into pockets of protected or undeveloped land.

Because these carnivores need a large home range to hunt and mix with other dhole populations, they’re most threatened by human development that further isolates them, such as rubber and palm plantations and infrastructure developments.

Intense human hunting of dhole prey, such as wild boar, has diminished the carnivores' food base in many places. Livestock owners often kill dholes—including shooting, poisoning, and snaring if they predate or are thought to predate on domestic animals. 

But there are some bright spots.

A scat sample recently collected in Kyrgyzstan belonged to a dhole, a surprising discovery that occurred over 600 miles north of the dog's usually range. This finding—the northernmost known record of dholes—could mean that there are unknown populations of the canines.

Conservationists are also embracing local education and community projects to promote co-existence with dholes. In Nepal, scientists work with local people to reduce poaching and conflict.

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