Are Dhole Packs in Peril?
Safeguarding these true underdogs of India’s tropical forests will require much greater resolve from scientists, wildlife managers and the government
By Arjun Srivathsa
March 21, 2019
[Note: this story was originally published at Down to Earth.]
“Except for his handsome appearance, the wild dog has not a single redeeming feature, and no effort, fair or foul, should be spared to destroy these pests of the jungle”.
Thus remarked E G Phythian-Adams, a British hunter from the Nilgiri Game Association, referring to the dhole in 1949. His perceptible disdain towards the social carnivore represented a common (mis)conception about dholes or Asiatic wild dogs (Cuon alpinus) being lawless, ruthless killers of the Indian jungles.
For the sport hunters of British India, dholes were not valuable as trophies, nor did they serve as good ‘game’ species. Large packs of dholes were often observed hunting herbivores like deer and gaur, disembowelling and eating their quarry alive.
This feeding tactic of the dhole, whose jaw strength is not as powerful as the tiger or the leopard to deliver a killing bite at the throat, furthered its negative reputation. Dholes were treated as ‘vermin’ and bounty-hunted in India until they were brought under protection in 1972 with the Wild Life Protection Act.
Dholes are currently distributed across forests of South and Southeast Asia. Their numbers have dwindled in many parts of their distribution range. Most dhole populations are restricted to protected forest habitats, but also occur in reserve forests and production agroforests (like tea and coffee plantations).
“India has set a stellar example being at the forefront of global efforts in scientific monitoring and conservation of tigers. It is time perhaps that we replicate these efforts to secure the future for dholes– the true underdogs of India’s tropical forests.”