Although it is not widely acknowledged, dholes are hyper-carnivores and therefore a keystone species for Asian ecosystems. They have specialized dentition that restricts their diets to pure flesh. In other words, dhole evolved to hunt and consume large numbers of prey, more so than any other large carnivore in Asia. Consequently, dholes likely have a greater impact on prey numbers and trophic cascades than any other large carnivore in Asia. Further, dhole habitats include deciduous dipterocarp forests and a mix of other forests types. This mosaic of forest types is biologically diverse and globally important for many endangered mammals, birds, and reptiles. Conserving dholes within this ecoregion will ensure that all other biodiversity and ecological processes are conserved.
Dholes are the least studied and understood of the endangered large carnivores in Asia. They have disappeared from more than 80% of their distribution during the past 50 years, and recently have become rarer than tigers and even snow leopards. This project aims to determine the effects of reserve size and prey density on the ecology and conservation of dholes in Cambodia. In addition, this project will include training programs to help build local capacity, while also assisting long-term conservation efforts for dholes.
Our field partners have collected approximately 25 scats from dholes, which are being dissected and analysed by Cambodian students and samples are being sent to a genetics laboratory to confirm prey species of the dhole. After determining the prey consumed by dhole, we can compare results to the prey available which is being determined using line-transect sampling. Such comparisons will help to determine the prey selection by dholes. We also have collected 60 scats from jackals, and 30 scats from leopards. Results from this analysis will help to determine the amount of dietary overlap and competition between dholes and other carnivores. We have also radio-collared 3 jackals, and are monitoring their movements using radio telemetry. Movements of jackals will be compared to those of dholes, to determine how dholes and jackals partition space and resources between themselves. The field team are placing GPS collars on several adjacent packs of dholes currently. Data from the GPS collars will be used to calculate home range sizes of different dhole packs and the amount of home range overlap. Such detailed data of dhole movements have never before been collected, so the data will be useful for the conservation of dholes throughout their range. Finally, to help build local capacity, 6 forest rangers, 2 Cambodian WWF biologists, and 2 Cambodian university students are being trained to identify dhole sign, and field research methods for investigating the ecology of dholes.
The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Oxford University, was founded and developed by David Macdonald, Oxford‘s first Professor of Wildlife Conservation, whose concept was to tackle the emerging biodiversity crisis and wider environmental issues by bridging the gap between academic theory and practical problem solving. WildCRU is involved with wild canid projects on all inhabited continents and houses the IUCN Species Survival Commission-Canid Specialist Group, the world’s chief body of expertise on the status and conservation of all canid species.
What can you do? Our consumption places pressure on resources all over the world – whether you are travelling or buying here in Australia, think then ask before you buy – will what I am buying affect wildlife?