Dhole (Cuon alpinus)

Also known as: Asian wild dog
French: Chien Sauvage D'Asie, Cuon D'Asie
Spanish: Perro Salvaje Asiático
GenusCuon (1)
SizeLength: 90 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 50 cm (2)
Tail length: 40 - 45 cm (2)
Male weight: 15 - 20 kg (2)
Female weight: 10 - 13 kg (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

Dholes or Asian wild dogs are pack-living canids, although they are unique amongst this family in having a thickset muzzle and one less molar tooth on each side of the lower jaw (4). The bushy coat is usually a rusty red colour with white on the belly, chest and paws (5). Different subspecies exist and those in the northern parts of the dhole's range have lighter and longer hair than their southern relatives (6). The bushy tail is black and the pups are also born a sooty black colour before acquiring their adult coat at around three months of age (4). The large rounded ears are filled with white hair (6) and the eyes are amber (5). Males tend to be significantly larger in size than females (6). Dholes have a wide range of vocalisations including an extremely distinctive whistle that is used to reassemble pack members in the thick forest of their habitat (5).

Dholes previously ranged throughout the Indian subcontinent, north into Korea, China and eastern Russia and south through Malaysia and Indonesia reaching as far as Java (2). Today, information on dhole numbers is lacking but the range appears to be greatly reduced and remaining populations are isolated in fragments of former habitat (5). There are 11 subspecies of dhole and these vary in range with the most common being Cuon alpinus dukhunensis found in central and southern India (5) (6).

Dholes are found in forested areas throughout their range from dense montane forest in Thailand to alpine areas in Russia, and thick scrub jungle in India (2). In general, factors such as prey and water availability, den sites and relatively open forest areas with grassy meadows (usually having high prey densities) are required to support dholes (2).

Dholes are highly social animals and they live and hunt in packs that closely resemble those of the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) (4). These packs seem to consist of more males than females (6) and usually contain around 5 to 12 members, although groups of up to 40 have been observed on occasion (5). There is a strict hierarchy within the pack and the group will defend a territory that can be as large as 84 square kilometres depending on the availability of food (6); territories are marked by latrine sites at trail intersections (4). Usually only the dominant female will breed (5), giving birth to a litter of three to four young, or occasionally ten, after a two month gestation period (2). The mating season occurs from September to February (2). Pups are born in a den, which is usually the abandoned burrow of another animal, and all members of the pack help to care for the mother and her litter (6). Individuals feed the pups by regurgitating food for them, and will help to guard the den; when the pups are old enough to accompany the adults on hunting trips they are allowed to eat first at the kill (4).

Cooperating in a pack to hunt prey, dholes are capable of killing animals over ten times their own body weight in size (5). Their diet is almost wholly carnivorous, predominantly made up of medium-sized ungulates (2) such as spotted deer (Axis axis), sambar deer (Cervus unicolor) and wild sheep (6). Hunting in thick forest, dholes rely on scent to locate prey, occasionally jumping high into the air to get their bearings (4). Pack members either move forward in a line or stand guard on the edge of dense cover whilst other members flush out the prey (4). Dholes are capable swimmers and sometimes drive their prey into water (5). Like the African wild dog, these animals have acquired a vicious reputation due to the speed with which they eat, and their method of disembowelling prey before it is fully dead (4). Attacks on humans are, however, extremely rare (4).

Dhole numbers have been reduced as their habitat is being destroyed throughout much of the Asian continent; the human population explosion has led to the clearance of vast tracts of forest for timber and to make way for agriculture and development (5). Historically, hunters viewed dholes as competition and thus persecuted them; bounties were also offered for their pelts (4). Today, habitat loss and the elimination of prey species pose the greatest threats to the survival of the dhole (4). Diseases such as distemper and rabies, possibly spread by domestic dogs, are important threats to the Indian subspecies C. a. primaevus (2).

Dholes are protected throughout most of their range, in India they are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Act of 1972 and hunting has also been prohibited in Russia since 1971 (2). In India and Nepal, dholes are protected within many tiger reserves and this has helped to keep their stronghold in southern India (4). More data is urgently needed on dhole distribution and numbers and the Dhole Conservation Programme is working to achieve this and to develop a Dhole Action Plan to safeguard the future of this remarkable canid (5).

For more information on the dhole see:

Authenticated (10/6/03) by Dr Arun Venkataraman, IUCN Canid Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)