The Asiatic wild dog or dhole Cuon alpinus is pack-living apex predator found in south and southeast Asia, currently threatened with endangerment. Dholes are generally restricted to protected forest habitats, but also occur in reserve forests and production agroforests (like tea and coffee plantations). The recent IUCN Red List assessment suggests that there may be 1000–2000 adult, mature dholes left in the wild. Despite its precarious status, the dhole remains one of the least studied large carnivores in the world.
At larger spatial scales, WCS-India scientists have examined patterns and determinants of dhole occurrence across the Karnataka Western Ghats, and recent work assessed ecological and anthropogenic factors influencing the dynamic processes of local extinction and local colonisation, and the conservation implications of these findings.
Changes in dhole distribution patterns across eight years (2007–2015) in the Western Ghats of Karnataka were studied and local extinctions were strongly correlated with loss of forest cover, while presence of protected areas enabled their persistence. The recent study also undertook sensitivity analysis and identified specific locations where the Forest Department should (1) consolidate habitats and (2) increase protection efforts, to benefit dhole conservation.
The work done by our researchers highlights the importance securing dhole populations within Karnataka’s protected areas while also maintaining forest connectivity between these reserves. The Western Ghats is a high priority site for conserving dhole meta-populations.
Earlier research (since 1995) on the dhole (Cuon alpinus) focussed on issues such as patterns of prey selectivity (between different species of prey as well as between age-sex classes within species), activity patterns, and the factors that allow the species to coexist with other large carnivores (tiger, leopard) in the tropical forests of southern India. These questions were addressed using a variety of methods including scat analyses, kill studies and direct observations of known individuals and packs. We have also examined food habits of dholes in Central Indian landscape and other select sites in India where they co-exist with tigers and leopards.