Dholes (Asian wild dogs) 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. In many countries, dholes are regarded as ‘pest’ species, and probably have been nearly extirpated from their distribution range. In Thailand, the problem is exacerbated by local beliefs that the dhole is 'common' and responsible for prey species decline. Scientific data accurately reflecting the species' current status is needed urgently to ensure inclusion of the dhole in future conservation planning in Thailand.
Although it is not widely acknowledged, dholes are hyper-carnivores and therefore a keystone species for Asian ecosystems. They have specialised dentition that restricts their diets to pure flesh. In other words, dholes have 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. 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.
With the support of Taronga, the project will use remote sensing technology to generate knowledge on dholes’ behavioural ecology and evaluate disease risk to dholes and other large carnivores posed by domestic dogs. Education of the local communities through a dhole storybook and school talks, as well as educating local wildlife authorities about the species and its role in sustaining a healthy ecosystem, is essential for the success of this project. A population analysis workshop will help to bring together Southeast Asian researchers and stakeholders to assess dhole species status and to discuss findings with decision-makers to help develop an effective, long-term conservation/management plan for the species.
During 2014/15, Smithsonian researchers have successfully radio-collared two Dholes in two protected areas in Thailand. More than 500 GPS locations have been collected for each Dhole, which is the largest dataset for this species to date. This information will greatly improve the understanding of ecological requirements for this species and will aid in the development for conservation plan. In addition, 60 scats from Dholes, Jackals, Civets, Mongoose and Leopard cats have been collected to assess the risk of canine parvovirus to wild carnivore population in Thai protected areas.
The Smithsonian Institution's Centre for Species Survival conducts research relating to animal management and reproductive science to gain an understanding of specific species and their biology, as well as develop management options for the survival of rare animals in the wild.
What can you do?
Be a responsible pet owner: Like the dhole, Australian wildlife can be affected by pets that may be vaccinated but still carry disease to other animals. Keep your pets in or on a leash whenever you are near a wilderness area.