Dhole (Cuon alpinus)


HB:800-900; T: 305-345; HF: 78-87; E: 95-105; W: 10-20kg

In Thailand this animal may be confused with the Asian Wild Dog, Cuon alpinus, but differs with in being generally greyish brown, not reddish, and having the shoulder hairs tipped black, forming a saddle like pattern. Also, the muzzles not blackish as it is in alpinus, the tail is short and blackish only on the distal third, the female as 10 mammae. The skull is typical of a Canis skull, with a long muzzle, rather wide, strong zygomatic arches, a low sagittal crest, and large , simple bullae. The skull differs from Cuon in having a narrower muzzle, a less inflated frontal region, and orbits relatively higher on the head. The dentition has the full 42 teeth of the typical dog; the second upper and lower molars are normal, but not reduced as in Cuon. The lower carnassial has two cusps on its heel. (one cusp in Cuon.)

Range Description:

In Central and Eastern Asia, there have been no confirmed, recent reports of dholes from Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan (where they were found formerly in the Tian-Shan area) or Tajikistan (where they were found formerly in the eastern Pamir area) (A. Poyarkov and N. Ovsyanikov in litt. D. Miquelle pers. comm.). There is a recent report of a Dhole that was captured in Jiangxi district, south China (C. Bellamy pers. comm.). Dholes were once present in parts of western China in the Tian-Shan Range, but the species' current status in this area is unclear; they do at least still persist, perhaps in low numbers, in parts of the Qilian Shan in north-western Gansu Province (Harris 2006). The species is still found in Tibet today, particularly in areas bordering the Leach region of India (R. Wangchuk pers. comm.), and the Tibet Forestry Bureau has reported that dholes are still "common" in parts of southeast Tibet (S. Chan, in litt.). Dholes occurred in northern Korea (Won Chang Man and Smith 1999) and a few small populations may still exist. There have been no records from Pakistan, but the species occurred on the alpine steppes of Ladakh, Kashmir, and India (Johnsingh 1985) that extend into the region termed Pakistan-occupied Kashmir by India.

Dholes are still found throughout much of India south of the river Ganges, and especially in the Central Indian Highlands and the Western and Eastern Ghats of the southern states. They are also found throughout north-east India, in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, and West Bengal (A. Venkataraman, A.J.T. Johnsingh and L. Durbin pers. comm.). In the Himalaya and north-western India, the status of dholes seems more precarious with a much more fragmented distribution. Dholes reportedly still occur in the Ladakh area of Kashmir, which is contiguous with the Tibetan highlands in China (R. Wangchuk pers. comm.).

The species formerly was recorded in the Terai region of the Indo-gangetic plain, including the Royal Chitawan National Park in Nepal, but there have been few recent reports. There is an unconfirmed report of dholes in Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve in the late 1990s (R.C. Kandel pers. comm.).

In Bhutan, there have been recent press reports that dholes have recovered from a government-initiated mass poisoning campaign in the 1970s and there have apparently been numerous recent incidents of dholes killing livestock in the lower Kheng region. Two recent, independent, eye-witness reports identify dholes in six protected areas in Bhutan (S. Wangchuk pers. comm., T. Wangchuk pers. comm.). In some regions, Dhole predation on wild boar (Sus scrofa) may be viewed in a positive light by local people (T. Wangchuk pers. comm.).

In Bangladesh, dholes were thought to occur in the forested tracts of the Chittagong and Sylhet Districts (Johnsingh 1985). It is not certain whether any remain in Bangladesh.

In Myanmar, dholes were recorded by camera trapping at 11 of 15 survey areas scattered across the country, only four of which were protected. Dholes and/or leopards have apparently replaced tigers as the top predator in these areas (Myanmar Forest Department 2003).

In Indochina, dholes probably ranged over all or almost all of Lao PDR, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, although reliable site-specific information is scarce. Present distribution is highly fragmented and large parts, particularly of Vietnam and Thailand, are without any regular occurrence of dholes, although they persist in a number of protected areas (Duckworth et al. 1999, Waltson 2001, M. Baltzer and R. Shore in litt., A. Lynam pers. comm.).

The species' historical range probably included all or most of the Malaysian peninsula and the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java, but reliable information is scarce. Current distribution is poorly known but is thought to be highly fragmented. On the Malaysian peninsula, dholes are known to occur in four sites in northern and central areas of the peninsula (from recent camera-trap surveys; J.B. Abdul pers. comm.). On Java, dholes appear to be most common in the protected areas at the eastern and western ends of the island. On Sumatra, very little is known, but dholes are known to occur in major protected areas in the southern, central, and northern parts of the island (e.g., from camera trapping; D. Martyr pers. comm.).

There is no reliable evidence of the presence of Dhole in Turkey (Kryštufek and Vohralík 2001; Can 2004).
Countries: Native:
Bangladesh; Bhutan; Cambodia; China; India; Indonesia; Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Malaysia; Mongolia; Myanmar; Nepal; Russian Federation; Tajikistan; Thailand; Vietnam

Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology:

The Dhole is found in a wide variety of vegetation types, including: primary, secondary and degraded forms of tropical dry and moist deciduous forest; evergreen and semi-evergreen forests; dry thorn forests; grassland–scrub–forest mosaics; and alpine steppe (above 3,000 m). They are not recorded from desert regions.
In India, tropical dry and moist deciduous forest may represent optimal habitats, based on the regions thought to hold the largest Dhole populations. Ungulate biomass, particularly that of cervid species, is highest in these vegetation types when compared to others in the same region (A. Venkataraman and V. Narendra Babu, unpubl.). In India, tropical dry and moist deciduous forests are subject to seasonal monsoon climates.  Important factors that may influence habitat selection include the availability of medium to large ungulate prey species, water, the presence of other large carnivore species, human population levels and suitability of breeding sites (proximity to water, presence of suitable boulder structures and sufficient prey).
Systems: Terrestrial

Major Threat(s):

 Depletion of prey base: Across almost all of Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Vietnam, as well as within protected areas, ungulates occur at levels well below natural. All species of ungulate except Muntjacs (Muntiacus spp.), pigs (Sus spp.) and in some areas southern Serow (Naemorhedus sumatraensis) are ecologically or fully extinct across extensive parts of the region. Only a few of the largest wildernesses support nearly intact species assemblages and even in these, the larger species (Bos spp., Cervus spp., hog deer Axis porcinus) are very rare. This situation will likely hinder any possibility of recovery by the region's Dhole populations, even if the other issues could be addressed. While not as depressed as in Indochina, prey levels in Indonesia also exist at levels much below carrying capacity (because of illegal hunting and habitat degradation). In protected areas in southern and central India, where Dhole numbers are stable, prey densities are high. In north-east India, prey densities are very low in protected areas with dholes. Habitat loss and transformation: Currently, extensive areas of natural or semi-natural vegetation remain in Lao PDR and Cambodia, some areas encompassing many hundreds of square kilometres of potential Dhole habitat. However, habitat conversion and fragmentation are proceeding apace. In Vietnam, very few natural areas of over 50 km˛ remain. Habitat loss and fragmentation is a major threat to protected areas in Indonesia, particularly those on Sumatra. Habitat loss and degradation are also serious threats to dholes in South Asia and the disappearance of dholes from many of the forested tracts in India has been attributed in large part to loss of habitat. Persecution: This certainly occurs in Indochina, although it is unclear how often. In Indonesia, too, it is a threat but again its significance is unknown. In India, such persecution can play a serious role in limiting local populations. Dholes living outside or on the edge of core protected areas are particularly vulnerable to human kleptoparasitism, snaring (non-selective) and direct persecution. For example, during a radio-tracking study in 2000, in the buffer zone of Kanha Tiger Reserve, central India, at least 16 out of 24 dholes in one pack died from a sudden strychnine poisoning (L. Durbin pers. obs.). In southern India, such persecution is moderate to low and often occurs indirectly when cattle graziers and others inadvertently go close to Dhole dens and disturb adults and pups, disrupting breeding and rearing (A. Venkataraman pers. obs.). "By-catch" in snares and other traps is probably a significant threat to dholes across Indochina at least. Competition with other species: Apparently, free-living dogs have been seen and/or camera trapped in many parts of Indochina, but there is no evidence for existence of large populations. Undoubtedly, the main competitor for prey species in Indochina is people. There is no evidence that feral dogs are significant competitors with dholes in Indonesia. In many parts of their range, dholes are sympatric with tigers and leopards and so the potential for significant intraspecific competition for prey exists, especially if the prey populations are reduced as a result of hunting by people.
 Disease and pathogens: Particularly those transmitted by feral and/or domestic dogs (e.g., mange, canine distemper, parvovirus and rabies). The significance of disease is unclear in Indochina, but diseases are a significant threat in South Asia and probably in parts of Indonesia. There is no widespread exploitation for fur or other purposes, though medicinal use should be investigated in China.

Conservation Actions: Included in CITES – Appendix II (2003).

In Cambodia, the current wildlife decrees give the Dhole protection from all hunting. A new forestry law is under preparation, and a proposal to list the species as a fully protected species is under discussion. In India, the Dhole is protected under Schedule 2 of the Wildlife Act of 1972 (permission is required to kill any individual unless in self defence or if an individual is a man killer). The creation of Project Tiger Reserves in India has provided some protection for populations of the dukhunensis subspecies (A.J.T. Johnsingh pers. comm., L. Durbin, pers. obs.). In the Russian Federation, dholes received the status of "protected animal" in 1974 (A. Poyarkov and N. Ovsyanikov in litt.); however, the poisoning of grey wolves may inadvertently affect any remnant Dhole populations (V. Puzanskii pers. comm.). In Vietnam, the Dhole is protected by Decree 18/HDBT (17/01/1992) and the amendment Decree 48/2002/ND-DP (22/04/2002) under category IIB, which limits extraction and utilization. However, the levels of extraction or utilization are not quantified (B. Long in litt. 2003). Dholes are listed as a category II protected species under the Chinese wildlife protection act of 1988. The species occurs in protected areas throughout its range. No conservation measures specifically focused on dholes have been reported for most range states. In India, Project Tiger could potentially maintain Dhole prey bases in areas where tigers and dholes coexist. There do not appear to be any specific measures for Dhole conservation in Indochina, although the declaration of relatively large protected area networks in Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Viet Nam will, when these areas become functional realities on the ground, form a suitable conservation system for the species in at least Cambodia and Lao PDR.  There are at least 110 dholes in captivity, and the sex ratio is approximately even. Except for some captive populations in India heterozygosity appears to be good, but there is little chance of breeding the putative subspecies as animals from diverse geographical origins have been widely interbred (M. Boeer pers. comm.).