The dhole (pronounced "dole"), Asiatic wild dog, Red Dog -

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The dhole (pronounced "dole"), Asiatic wild dog, Red Dog

Endangered Animals > Mammals N-T

The dhole (pronounced "dole") is also known as the Asiatic wild dog, or red dog. It is about the size of a German shepherd, but looks more like a long-legged fox. Dholes are classified with wolves, coyotes, jackals, and foxes in the taxonomic family Canidae.  

The dhole is an unusual dog for a number of reasons, though. It doesn't fit neatly into any of the dog subfamilies (wolves and foxes, for instance). Dholes have only two molars on each side of their lower jaw,

The dhole

instead of three, and have a relatively shorter jaw than their doggie counterparts. Also, females have more teats than other canid species and can produce up to 12 pups per litter. Dholes are found in southern Russia and Siberia,


China, India, and Southeast Asia. They prefer forested areas but also inhabit scrub regions and alpine terrain. They can survive polar cold as well as tropical heat and can live at altitudes up to 4000 m (13,000 ft). Similar in size and shape to coyotes, dholes measure 88 to 113 cm (35 to 45 in) in length. They weigh 10 to 20 kg (22 to 44 lb), with males slightly heavier than females. Their fur is light reddish-brown, with a lighter belly and a bushy black tail that measures 40 to 50 cm (16 to 20 in). Dholes are distinguished from coyotes and most other canines in having more-rounded ears, fewer teeth, and distinct skull features. They communicate with a variety of sounds, including growls, howls, whistles, and screams.

Dholes are carnivores, hunting rodents, deer, antelopes, wild pigs, and sheep. Some reports suggest they can hunt larger animals such as bears and tigers. Dholes hunt primarily during the day and are known for killing and eating their prey quickly. They live and hunt in packs, which usually number from 5 to 12 individuals but may reach up to 40 when pups are present. Dhole packs are highly mobile but also territorial—each pack’s area is carefully marked with urine and feces to warn off other packs.

Asiatic wild dog

Like other dogs, dholes are social, living in groups called packs. The pack works together to feed and care for itself. Each pack has 5 to 12 members, but they will also work or play with dholes from outside of their own pack. Sometimes dhole packs get together to form super packs of up to 30 or more animals. They will hunt together, share their prey, then separate again into the original smaller groups. Inter-pack aggression is rare, perhaps because neighboring packs tend to be related to one another.

Dholes are similar to African wild dogs: there is one dominant monogamous pair, and the entire pack contributes to the care and feeding of the pups. This is called cooperative breeding. Other pack members will bring food to the nursing mother and pups by thorwing up food from their stomachs after a hunt. Once the pups are old enough to join the main pack, they are allowed "first dibs" on the kills. When the pups reach about three years of age, it is the females that head off to live with other packs. This results in an unusual and skewed male/female mix in dhole packs: sometimes there is only one female in a pack full of males!

During the breeding season, female dholes find dens in holes or rock piles in which to raise their young. They give birth to four to six young after a gestational period of about 61 days, and both females and males care for the young. Parents are helped by other adults in the pack. Pack members will bring food to the mother and regurgitate food to the pups. Sometimes a sentry stands over the mother and her young when the rest of the pack is off on a hunt. By eight months of age, the pups are able to hunt with the other adults.

Dholes are great communicators and use an eerie whistle to communicate with each other. They also use a variety of other noises, including clucks and high-pitched screams, that are not found anywhere else in the canid families. Dhole packs often hunt as a group, with one "lead dog" in charge. The dholes use these sounds when hunting together. Such communication helps them take down prey many times their own body weight. Then they swallow meat in large chunks and actually carry it back to pack members that way! They have been known to hunt ibex, mountain sheep, various deer species, rodents, rabbits, and even turtles in some parts of their range. Dholes will also eat berries, bugs, lizards, rabbits, and wild pigs and they even hunt well on their own if needed. At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the dholes are fed carnivore diet, with bones to chew on twice a week and thawed rabbits once a week.

Like other dogs, dholes use their keen sense of smell to track prey. They are also very good swimmers and have even been seen chasing their prey into water to help slow it down! And, just like dogs you may know, dholes will happily wag their tails at one another in greeting!

Saving of Dholes - The Endangered Animals

Disease and human conflict threaten the dhole, which is now listed as an endangered species. Their supply of prey is also running out in several areas. Dholes can easily catch diseases like distemper and rabies from domestic dogs brought by humans moving into the wild dog's habitat. In some places, dholes are trapped and poisoned, and their dens destroyed, because they are viewed as dangerous pests.

Their primary threat, though, is habitat loss. As dholes lose places to live and reproduce, so do their prey. If there is nowhere safe to live and nothing to eat, then the dhole will slowly die out. Dholes have been intensively hunted and poisoned by humans, due to the false belief that they pose a threat to humans and domesticated animals.

Red Dog

The International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has declared dhole as endangered owing to their sudden fall in numbers and they are in the verge of extinction. The Safari Park has the only breeding dholes in managed care in the United States as part of its long-range conservation science efforts. We fund and support dhole conservation efforts in Asia and are involved in a detailed study aimed at increasing our understanding of vocal communication in dholes, the whistling hunters of the wild!

Today the hunting of dholes is prohibited in many areas. The dhole is considered vulnerable in many parts of its range.

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