Saturday, December 9, 2023

Dhole (Asiatic Wild Dog)

Dhole (Asiatic Wild Dog) UPSC

The dhole, also known as the Asiatic wild dog or Indian wild dog (Cuon alpinus), whistling dog, red wolf, red dog, whistling dog, mountain wolf, is a species of canid native to South and Southeast Asia. 

Dholes are known for their highly social nature. They live in cohesive packs that can range from a few individuals to over 40 members. Pack members cooperate in hunting and raising pups, and they have a complex social structure with a well-defined hierarchy.

Dholes are classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to habitat loss, depletion of prey, and persecution by humans.

Dholes play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of their ecosystems by regulating the populations of prey species.

Table of Contents

  • Dhole Characteristics
    • Classification
    • Scientific Name
    • Habitat
    • Physical Appearance
    • Diet
    • Behavior
    • Reproduction
    • Lifespan
    • Speed
  • Dhole in India
  • Dhole Protection Status
    • IUCN Status
    • CITES
    • Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
  • Conservation
  • Threats
  • Dhole UPSC Question

Dhole (Asiatic Wild Dog) Characteristics

Here are some key characteristics of the dhole (Asiatic wild dog):

1. Classification:

The dhole belongs to the following classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Vertebrata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Cuon
  • Species: Cuon alpinus

This classification places dholes within the broader group of canids, which includes familiar species like domestic dogs, wolves, and foxes.

2. Scientific Name:

The scientific name of the dhole, or Asiatic wild dog, is Cuon alpinus.

3. Habitat:

Dholes are adaptable animals that can be found in a variety of habitats across South and Southeast Asia. Their habitat preferences include:

(i) Deciduous Forests:

Dholes are often found in deciduous forests, where the changing seasons lead to the shedding of leaves from trees.These forests provide cover and suitable hunting grounds for dholes.

(ii) Grasslands:

Open grasslands and savannas are also habitats where dholes can be found. The open terrain in these areas allows for efficient hunting.

(iii) Tropical Rainforests:

Dholes are known to inhabit tropical rainforests, although they may not be as common in dense forest environments.

(iv) Alpine Meadows:

In some regions, dholes can be found in alpine meadows at higher elevations, adapting to a more mountainous environment.

(v) Hilly and Mountainous Regions:

Dholes are capable of living in hilly and mountainous areas, showing their adaptability to diverse topographies.

(vi) Human-Modified Landscapes:

Dholes can sometimes be found in areas that have been modified by human activities, including agricultural landscapes and areas near human settlements.

Their adaptability to various habitats has allowed dholes to occupy a range of environments. 

4. Physical Appearance:

The dhole, or Asiatic wild dog (Cuon alpinus), has a distinctive physical appearance. Here are some key features:

(i) Size and Weight:

Dholes are medium-sized canids, comparable to the size of a large domestic dog

  • Length: 76 to 100 cm (30 to 40 inches), exclusive of the 28–48-centimeter (11–19-inch) tail.
  • Adult females weigh 10 to 17 kg.
  • Adult males weigh 15 to 21 kg.

(ii) Coat Color:

The coat of a dhole is typically a reddish-brown to yellowish-brown color. They often have a lighter-colored underside, and the fur on their tails may be bushy and have a white tip.

(iii) Lighter Coloration:

Lighter coloration along the chest, belly, and paws. Throat, chest, flanks, belly, and the upper parts of the limbs may have a slightly yellowish tone.

(iv) Ears:

Dholes have rounded ears that stand erect.

(v) Tail:

  • The tail is brushy and fox-like.
  • Often has a black tip.
  • Fluffy with a brown tip.
  • Length: 28–48-centimeter (11–19-inch).

(vi) Face and Head:

Dholes have a somewhat fox-like appearance in the face, with a pointed muzzle. They have a set of sharp teeth adapted for carnivorous feeding.

(vii) Build:

Dholes have a robust and athletic build, suited for their hunting and scavenging lifestyle. They are known for their agility and endurance.

5. Diet:

Dholes are carnivorous predators, and their diet primarily consists of meat. Here are key aspects of the dhole's diet:

(i) Prey:

Dholes primarily hunt and consume ungulates (hoofed mammals). This includes species such as deer, wild boar, Water Buffaloes, Cattle, Goats and various types of antelope. They are known for their ability to take down prey much larger than themselves through coordinated hunting strategies.

(ii) Hunting Techniques:

Dholes are highly social animals that hunt in packs. Their hunting techniques often involve teamwork, coordination, and strategic planning. They are skilled at chasing and bringing down prey, utilizing their agility and stamina.

(iii) Scavenging:

While dholes are primarily active hunters, they may also scavenge carrion opportunistically. Scavenging can provide an additional food source and is a behavior seen in many canid species.

(iv) Adaptability:

Dholes can adapt their diet to the availability of prey in their habitat. In addition to ungulates, they may consume smaller mammals, birds, and other prey species.

(v) Feeding Young:

When raising pups, both parents and other pack members contribute to feeding the young dholes. Pups initially consume regurgitated food provided by the adults.

(vi) Impact on Ecosystem:

As predators, dholes play a crucial role in regulating the populations of prey species in their ecosystems. Their presence influences the behavior and distribution of other species, contributing to the overall balance of the ecosystem.

6. Behavior:

The behavior of dholes, or Asiatic wild dogs, is characterized by their highly social nature, efficient hunting strategies, and adaptability. Here are key aspects of dhole behavior:

(i) Social Structure:

Dholes are social animals that live in cohesive packs. Pack sizes can vary, ranging from a few individuals to over 40 members. Within the pack, there is a well-defined social hierarchy, and each member has a specific role.

(ii) Communication:

Dholes communicate using a variety of vocalizations, including whistles, clucks, and screams. Body language and scent marking are also important means of communication within the pack.

(iii) Cooperative Hunting:

Dholes are known for their cooperative and coordinated hunting strategies. They work together to pursue and bring down prey, often taking down animals much larger than an individual dhole.

(iv) Territorial Behavior:

Dhole packs defend territories that they mark with scent markings. Intruders are met with aggressive behavior, and conflicts may arise over territorial boundaries.

(v) Parental Care:

Both parents and other pack members contribute to the care and upbringing of the young. Pups are initially fed regurgitated food by the adults. The pack plays a crucial role in protecting and raising the pups.

(vi) Nomadic Behavior:

Dhole packs may exhibit a somewhat nomadic lifestyle, moving through their territories in search of prey and resources. Their adaptability allows them to thrive in a variety of habitats.

(vii) Play Behavior:

Dhole pups engage in play behavior, which helps develop their physical and social skills. Play is an essential aspect of their learning and socialization process.

(viii) Threat Displays:

When threatened, dholes may exhibit aggressive behaviors, including vocalizations, raised hackles, and defensive postures.

7. Reproduction:

The reproductive behavior of dholes, or Asiatic wild dogs, involves certain patterns and characteristics typical of canids. Here are key aspects of dhole reproduction:

(i) Breeding Season:

The breeding season for dholes typically occurs between November and April. However, variations can be observed depending on the geographical location.

(ii) Courtship and Pair Formation:

Dholes are monogamous, and pair formation occurs within the pack. Courtship behaviors include mutual grooming, play, and other social interactions.

(iii) Gestation Period:

The gestation period for dholes is approximately 60 to 63 days.

(iv) Litter Size:

Females give birth to litters that typically range from 3 to 6 pups, although larger litters have been reported.

(v) Denning:

Pregnant females seek out secluded dens for giving birth and raising their pups. More than one female can den and rear their litters together in the same den. The den provides protection and a secure environment for the vulnerable young. The litters remain at the den site for 70 to 80 days.

(vi) Parental Care:

Both parents and other pack members participate in caring for and raising the pups. Pups are initially fed regurgitated food provided by the adults.

(vii) Weaning:

Pups begin to wean and consume solid food at around two to three months of age.

(viii) Play Behavior:

Play behavior is an important aspect of dhole pup development. It helps them develop physical and social skills.

(ix) Independence:

Dhole pups become more independent as they grow, but the pack continues to play a significant role in their upbringing.

(x) Maturity:

Dholes reach sexual maturity at around one to two years of age.

(xi) Dispersal:

As young dholes mature, they may disperse from their natal pack to join or form new packs. This helps in maintaining genetic diversity within populations.

8. Lifespan:

In the wild, the average lifespan of a dhole (Asiatic wild dog) is typically around 10 years. However, the actual lifespan can vary based on factors such as environmental conditions, predation, availability of food, and human-related threats.

In captivity, where dholes are protected from many of the challenges they face in the wild, they may live longer. The lifespan in captivity can extend to 15 years or more, depending on the quality of care provided.

9. Speed:

When it comes to the speed, these Asiatic wild dogs showcase impressive agility and velocity in their pursuit of prey. Dholes can reach a remarkable pace of approximately 50 km/h (30 mph) during their hunting endeavors. This level of speed highlights their adeptness in chasing down fleet-footed prey across various terrains.

Dholes' running ability is a key factor in their hunting strategy, emphasizing their evolutionary adaptation for endurance. Unlike short bursts of speed, dholes rely on a sustained pace to efficiently pursue and capture prey. This coordinated effort within the pack allows them to work together, employing their speed and stamina over extended distances to outmaneuver and tire their prey.

Their swift movements, combined with a social structure that supports collaborative hunting, make dholes well-suited for thriving in diverse environments. This speed and agility contribute to their success as predators, showcasing the fascinating adaptations that enable them to navigate their ecosystems with efficiency and prowess.

Dhole (Asiatic Wild Dog) in India

1. Historical Distribution:

Historically, dholes were reported to have a wider distribution range, spanning from southern Russia and central Asia to South and Southeast Asia. However, recent research and current distribution maps indicate a more restricted range for dhole populations.

2. Current Range:

Presently, dholes are primarily found in South and Southeast Asia, with their range extending from India through Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and into parts of China. The northernmost populations are indeed reported in China. 

3. Distribution in India:

Dholes are found in various regions across India, including national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Their distribution spans diverse habitats, ranging from deciduous forests and grasslands to tropical rainforests.

In India, dholes are found in three distinct clusters:

  • Western and Eastern Ghats
  • North East India
  • Central Indian Landscape

States such as Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh have been highlighted in studies for playing a crucial role in the conservation of the endangered dhole in India. 

Dhole (Asiatic Wild Dog) Protection Status

The protection status of the dhole (Asiatic wild dog) is as follows:

1. IUCN Status:

The dhole is listed as "Endangered" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This designation reflects the species' vulnerability to extinction due to various threats, including habitat loss, depletion of prey, and conflicts with humans.

2. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES):

The dhole is included in CITES Appendix II. Appendix II includes species that are not necessarily currently threatened with extinction but may become so unless trade is closely controlled. This listing aims to ensure that international trade does not further endanger the survival of the species.

3. Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (India):

In India, the dhole is listed under Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Schedule II includes species that receive a higher level of legal protection. Offenses related to the hunting, poaching, or trade of species listed under Schedule II are subject to stricter penalties.

These designations and listings reflect the recognition of the dhole's conservation significance and the need for conservation measures to ensure the survival of the species. Legal frameworks, both at the national and international levels, play a crucial role in protecting endangered species like the dhole and regulating activities that could pose a threat to their populations.

Dhole (Asiatic Wild Dog) Conservation

Conservation efforts for the dhole, or Asiatic wild dog, focus on addressing the various threats faced by the species to ensure its survival. Here are key aspects of dhole conservation:

1. Habitat Protection and Restoration:

Protecting and restoring natural habitats is crucial for dhole conservation. This includes the establishment and maintenance of protected areas, wildlife sanctuaries, and national parks where dholes can thrive without significant human interference.

2. Reducing Habitat Fragmentation:

Efforts are made to minimize habitat fragmentation, which can isolate dhole populations and limit their ability to roam freely. Wildlife corridors and connectivity between protected areas are essential for maintaining genetic diversity.

3. Mitigating Human-Wildlife Conflict:

Human-wildlife conflict is a significant threat to dholes. Conservation initiatives involve community engagement, education, and the implementation of strategies to reduce conflict, such as the use of livestock protection measures and awareness campaigns.

4. Anti-Poaching Measures:

Strengthening anti-poaching efforts is crucial to prevent illegal hunting and trade of dholes. This involves increased patrolling, monitoring, and law enforcement to deter poachers.

5. Research and Monitoring:

Ongoing research is conducted to better understand dhole behavior, ecology, and population dynamics. Monitoring programs help assess population health, distribution, and the impact of conservation interventions.

6. Collaborative Conservation Programs:

Collaboration between governmental and non-governmental organizations, researchers, local communities, and international partners is essential for effective dhole conservation. This includes sharing knowledge, resources, and coordinating conservation actions.

7. Change Adaptation:

Considering the potential impacts of climate change on dhole habitats, conservation strategies may include measures to help dholes adapt to changing environmental conditions.

8. Public Awareness and Education:

Raising public awareness about the importance of dholes in ecosystems and the need for their conservation is vital. Education programs also contribute to changing attitudes and behaviors toward wildlife.

9. In-situ and Ex-situ Conservation:

In-situ conservation involves on-site protection of dhole populations in their natural habitats. Ex-situ conservation may include captive breeding programs as a safeguard against population declines and genetic diversity loss.

10. Policy Advocacy:

Conservation organizations advocate for policies that support dhole conservation at local, national, and international levels. This involves influencing legislation, promoting sustainable land-use practices, and integrating conservation into development planning.

By addressing these aspects, conservationists aim to secure a future for dholes in the wild, maintaining their role in ecosystems and contributing to the overall biodiversity of their habitats.


Why are dholes endangered?

The dhole, or Asiatic wild dog, faces several threats that contribute to its endangered status. These threats impact dhole populations in various regions where they are found. Here are some key threats to dholes:

1. Habitat Loss and Fragmentation:

One of the most significant threats to dholes is the loss and fragmentation of their natural habitats. Deforestation, land development, and agricultural expansion contribute to the reduction of suitable living spaces for dholes.

2. Human-Wildlife Conflict:

Dholes may come into conflict with humans, particularly in areas where their habitat overlaps with agricultural land or human settlements. This conflict can lead to retaliatory killings by communities aiming to protect livestock or crops.

3. Depletion of Prey:

Changes in land use and overhunting of prey species by humans can result in a reduced availability of natural prey for dholes. This scarcity can force them to venture into areas closer to human activities, leading to increased conflicts.

4. Disease Transmission:

Dholes are susceptible to diseases, and interactions with domestic dogs can lead to the transmission of diseases such as canine distemper and infectious diseases, which pose a threat to dhole populations.

5. Climate Change:

Climate change can impact the distribution and availability of prey species, alter ecosystems, and affect the dhole's natural habitat. Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns may also pose challenges to dhole populations.

6. Poaching:

While not as prominent as with some other endangered species, dholes may still face poaching pressures, either for their skins or other body parts, or due to conflicts with hunters.

7. Competition with Other Predators:

Dholes compete with other large predators, such as tigers and leopards, for prey and territory. The presence of these larger predators can limit the resources available to dhole populations.

8. Lack of Conservation Awareness:

Limited awareness about the importance of dhole conservation may contribute to insufficient protection measures. Public awareness and education are essential for fostering support for dhole conservation.

Addressing these threats requires comprehensive conservation strategies that involve habitat protection, community engagement, sustainable land-use practices, and measures to reduce human-wildlife conflicts.

Dhole (Asiatic Wild Dog) UPSC Question

Q. Are dholes found in India?

A. Yes, dholes, also known as Asiatic wild dogs, are found in India. They inhabit various regions across the country, including national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and forested areas. Dholes are known to adapt to different environments, and their distribution in India includes diverse habitats such as deciduous forests, grasslands, and hilly or mountainous regions.

In India, dholes are found in three main clusters:

  • Western and Eastern Ghats
  • North East India
  • Central Indian Landscape

Q. Are there dholes in Ranthambore National Park?

A. Ranthambore National Park is known for its rich biodiversity, and for several iconic and diverse species, such as the Bengal tiger, dholes, sambar deer, nilgai, sloth bear, wild boar, leopard, hyena, and chital (spotted deer).

Q. How many dholes are left in the world?

A.  The estimated adult population in the wild falls within the range of 949 to 2,215 individuals.

Q. What category is dhole in IUCN?

A. Dholes, also known as Asiatic wild dogs, are currently categorized as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Dhole (Asiatic Wild Dog)

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