Updated: Oct 19
Cuon alpinus; Credits Wikipedia
Dholes (Cuon alpinus) are the Asiatic wild dogs that are rusty in colour with a long bushy tail and one of the endangered species of wild dogs. Female dholes are lightly smaller compared to males. Dholes have a range spreading in eastern and southern Asia, from Siberia in the north to the Malay Peninsula in the south. Dholes occupy a wide variety of climates and habitats, including dense forests, scrub, steppes, and alpine regions. Dholes do not exist sympatrically with other canids. A research was conducted in Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, to study the reproductive and social behaviour of dholes. The study area abuted Madumalai Wildlife Sanctuary of Tamil Nadu and Wynad Wildlife Sanctuary of Kerela.
Dholes were hunted for trophy till 1975. Due to this, they were remarkably shy of man and even a faint human smell caused them to withdraw, making studying these creatures cumbersome.
The pack studied in Bandipur ranged from 2-11 adult individuals. Dholes utilise interdigital glands, scats and urine for communication. Dholes locate a kill by following the interdigital gland secretions that were left behind by the dhole which hunted it. Sambars and Elephants usually become observant when they scent fresh Dhole tracks. Defecation sites include a specific area used by dholes as communal latrines. Defaecation sites may function as a warning to neighbouring packs when at the periphery of the pack’s home range. It may also serve as a bookkeeper to indicate if an area has been hunted freshly. This would ensure that there is an economical use of the home range. It was observed that when dholes secluded from other dholes to go hunting individually, it placed a bolus of faeces at such sites before it left. Young pups are customarily quarrelsome. They often engage in a fight with the other members of the pack for a hunt or kill. Adults are observed to play often after feeding on a kill, after an unsuccessful hunt, before a hunt and while at near den sites with pups. The play behaviour constitutes gestures like, putting the head between the forequarters and wagging the tail, homo and heterosexual mounting, chase and ambush. They also play with objects such as sticks or deer skins. However, playing in pubs includes gesture like jaw wresting, ambushing, chasing, submissive rolling and face to face sparring while standing on hind legs.
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Dholes oftentimes don’t tolerate the presence of other species near its kill. Especially crows. They try to catch them as they fly away. With an increasing number of feral dogs encroaching the forests, it is not unique for dholes to encounter them. In such instances, there is not much aggression but the dholes chase away the village dogs. Although they are capable of hunting down puppies if nearby, dholes in this study were observed to not be aggressive towards the pups. Dholes are often chased away by elephants especially if a cub is nearby.
Dens were carefully chosen by dholes. They often preferred dens which served as a vantage point from which they had a clear view of the surroundings. The dens can be classified into four types,i.e, a simple earth den with one entrance; a complex den with more than one entrance; simple cavernous den excavated u der or between rocks and; a complex cavernous denning area with several dens and each with many entrances in the same vicinity. These entrances also may be interconnected. A dhole’s den can be easily identified with the hair of prey animals found near the den due to regurgitation. Scats of old and adult sholes can also be seen near the dens.
Credits: The Hindu
Comparable to elephants, male dholes tend to sniff the anogenital region of the females during oestrous indicating the presence of oestrous. The gestation period of dholes is about two months. The mother dhole more or less stayed completely with the pup until the latter was approximately two months old. The pups are usually fed regurgitated food by the mother and they suckle until they are 58 days old. Pups usually run behind adults and bite the side of the mouth of adult begging for food. The adults exhibit tolerance to the pups depending on the size of the kill. The larger the kill more will be the tolerance compared to a smaller kill like a deer fawn. The. Mother is usually alert and responses with caution when it hears alarm calls of Chital and langurs. In times like this, the mother usually growls and silences the squeaking pups. The dens with pups usually have a guard dhole present outside the den. Dholes usually change dens when there are even slightly disturbed to protect the pups.
The hunting times of dhole can either be early morning or late in the evening. However, the morning time is more preferred.
Dholes packs are of a fission-fusion type. An increase in the population leads to emigration. This may be due to social tension during the mating season. If a subsequently large or small pack of dholes also result in higher mortality of the pups. Members of a pack that cannot obtain territory or home range are forced to wander singly or in groups through rough terrains which cause mortality of the pups. The inability to find food at regular intervals and lack of protection for the pups from predators by a lone bitch also contribute to the mortality of the pups. Dholes tend to stay alone very seldom. Dholes also tend to scavenge on kills by other predators. Thus, to conclude it can be brought to light that saving the endangered dholes has to become one of the most important tasks of the conservation community to keep a healthy prey-predator balance.
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A. Johnsingh, "Reproductive and social behaviour of the Dhole,Cuon alpinus(Canidae)",Journal of Zoology, vol. 198, no. 4, pp. 443-463, 1982. Available: 10.1111/jzo.19220.127.116.113 [Accessed 27 September 2020].