Will the dholes have their day?

July 25, 2018 12:00 am | Updated 03:32 am IST - Kanha National Park:

Dholes or the Indian wild dogs are as important as tigers in keeping the balance in forests. But little is known about this elusive species. Scientists have now collared a dhole to understand their behaviour and predating patten

Two Indian wild dogs or 'dhole' at the Indira Gandhi Zoological Park in Visakhapatnam.Photo: K.R. DeepakK_R_DEEPAK

Two Indian wild dogs or 'dhole' at the Indira Gandhi Zoological Park in Visakhapatnam.Photo: K.R. DeepakK_R_DEEPAK

In a first, wildlife scientists have collared a dhole, the Indian wild dog, with a satellite transmitter to understand the ecology of this endangered species that is considered as important as tigers in keeping the balance in forests but is heading for extinction at a “dramatic pace”.

Rare to spot

With less than 2,500 individuals surviving in the wild globally, dhole is already extinct in about 10 Asian countries.

Rare to spot in the wild, it took a team of patient scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) over 10 days to to track down a pack of 14 dholes in Bishanpura meadow in the Mukki range of the Kanha National Park. The team tranquillised an adult female, tested its health and fixed a tracking collar around its neck as the rest of pack cautiously observed from a distance.

Wildlife scientists told this visiting IANS correspondent that the population of dholes has dramatically fallen over the years, raising the urgent need of better understanding of the behaviour, predating pattern and ecology of this elusive species. “We don’t know a lot of aspects of their ecology, which makes conserving dholes far more difficult than the tigers,” Dr Y.V. Jhala, senior scientist at WII, told IANS after he collared the dhole.

Jhala, who headed the team, said that it’s far more easier to collar a tiger or any other species than a dhole.

Key to ecosystem

Currently little is known about the species and ecologists are either dependent on the information based on decades-old research or from conclusions drawn from the African Wild Dogs, which are the closest relatives of the dholes.

Ujjwal Kumar, WII Conservation Ecologist, said that the species is being pushed towards extinction at a dramatic pace. The species is the key in cleansing weaker genes in nature by predating on them, Kumar explained.

According to Delhi-based ecologist Faiyaz A. Khuzdar, the species helps in reducing the biotic pressure on a patch of forest, as, wherever it goes, certain species of predators flee, giving a breather to many other species of flora and fauna.

At present, only 949 to 2,215 mature dholes survive in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, the WWF estimations believe that globally less than 2,500 overall individuals live in the wild.

“People have studied dholes a long time ago. Dr A.J.T. Johnsingh, an eminent Indian ecologist, had studied dholes in the late 1970s. His PhD was on dholes in Bandipur, but technology has improved since with remote data and advance tracking, the depth of understanding is far more,” Jhala asserted.

Once found globally, these wild dogs of Asia are now restricted to only a few regions. At present, the dhole is possibly extinct in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia, Singapore, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Many ecologists consider habitat loss and bad prey base as a major reason for the dhole’s falling population, but WII scientists contradict this.

He added that poisoning by the villagers near forests and transmission of disease from domestic dogs are the major reasons behind the dramatic fall in their population.

Since dholes often target livestock, villagers retaliate by leaving poisoned prey for them.

“Dholes are prone to all those common dog diseases like rabies, paivo virus and distemper to name a few, which has a major repercussion on their population,” he added.IANS

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