Eerie whistles, high-pitched yelps, and haunting howls once echoed through the forests of Southeast Asia. These strange sounds were created by the dhole, a small wild dog that used to be plentiful in the region. This unusual canid is now endangered and facing extinction, yet has been largely ignored by conservationists and the public.
The dhole is a somewhat unassuming-looking creature. Rich red fur and large pointed ears give it an almost foxlike appearance, though it has a distinctive short tail covered in long, dark fur that sets it apart from other dogs. Although they are sometimes referred to as the red wolf, dholes are smaller than many medium-sized pet dogs.
Despite this small, gentle appearance, dholes are formidable predators. Many of their prey animals are considerably larger than they are, which requires them to use intelligence and teamwork to be successful. There are even stories of dholes challenging tigers and winning.
Dholes are social creatures and live in packs, which vary in size depending on the amount of prey available in the area. Packs can be as small as five individuals and may include as many as 15, although there are past records of packs ranging between 40 and 100 dogs. These packs are notable because of their peaceful, cooperative nature. They often play and lick each other, and they let cubs eat first.
Although dhole populations can be found from Vietnam to Nepal, they are fragmented and small. Scientists struggle to track dholes due to their intelligence and elusive nature, but there are likely fewer than 2,500 individuals left in the wild, as of 2015. As the only species of Cuon left, if the dhole dies out, an entire evolutionary genus will also go extinct.
Habitat loss is one of the biggest threats the species faces, as its natural habitat is decimated due to mining, farming and development. Domestic dogs also pose a threat, because they spread harmful diseases to the wild populations.
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Unfortunately, the dholes’ hunting prowess also works against them. Local farmers believe they kill livestock and preemptively poison them. However, farmers in areas with healthy dhole populations have found that they may actually be beneficial, because they keep pest species in check.
The dhole is a unique, valuable creature that is in danger of extinction. Although it may be difficult to restore their population to healthy numbers, increased knowledge and clever conservation initiatives may help save the whistling dog.Whizzco