Down To Earth speaks to Arjun Srivathsa, a wildlife biologist who works on large carnivore ecology and conservation about the situation regarding dholes across Asia
The dhole (Cuon alpinus), is a member of the dog or canid family that also includes wolves, foxes, coyotes, jackals and domestic dogs. The dhole, also known as the ‘Red Dog’ or ‘Asiatic Wild Dog’, is a charismatic carnivore that moves around in packs and hunts prey including sambar, chital, kakar and others.
The species has been losing ground in most of its range across the Asian continent. This World Dhole Day, Down To Earth spoke with Bengaluru-based Arjun Srivathsa (DST INSPIRE Fellow, NCBS Bengaluru and Affiliate Scientist, WCS-India) who specialises in researching on canids, especially the dhole. Edited excerpts:
Rajat Ghai: What have been the recent developments in the world of dholes?
Arjun Srivathsa: The International Union for Conservation of Nature is meeting in Nepal for the second World Dhole Conference in the first week of June.
The week-long meeting will follow World Dhole Day and will witness dhole experts across the world coming together to plan research and conservation. The first such conference happened in February 2019 before the pandemic.
There has been a lot of progress in terms of research on dholes in India. That is definitely something to celebrate.
There are now a number of dedicated groups conducting research on dholes. The projects which I have been a part of have mostly been in the Western Ghats landscape and have focused on studying their metapopulation dynamics. For instance, finding out dhole interactions with people in the region’s ‘agroforests’ such as coffee and tea plantations.
Wildlife Conservation Society India also ran a ‘dhole lot of love’ campaign where people submitted artworks on dholes.
RG: What is the situation regarding dholes across the rest of Asia?
AS: Nepal has been making a lot of progress. Dhole-specific projects in Asia are mostly being carried out in Nepal, Bhutan, India and Thailand.
Dhole presence being reported in Kyrgyzstan last year was serendipitous since the research project during which this happened was on snow leopards. The researchers came across scat which they thought was from a snow leopard but turned out to be that of a dhole when tested in a lab.
Thailand has an ongoing dhole-specific programme. Bhutan as well as India have come out with research on national-level dhole connectivity. Nepal has a number of conflict-mitigation projects going on right now, with some success.
RG: What is the greatest threat to dholes across their range?
AS: In Northeast India and southeast Asia, dholes face persecution at the hands of humans who kill their prey animals and render large tracts of forest unsuitable for the species.
On the other hand, poaching of prey is not that much of an issue in central and southern India. Here it is largely habitat loss. So, the threats are different across locations.
RG: Tigers have been mostly extirpated in Vietnam and Cambodia. Tigers are apex predators with whom the dhole shares its range. Will tiger extinction have any impact on dhole populations in Vietnam and Cambodia?
AS: If it was targeted poaching of tigers, there would indeed have been a resurgence of dholes in these two countries. But that is not the case.
Both Cambodia and Vietnam are witnessing rampant and wanton snaring which has gone out of hand. This has led to a loss of prey species for big carnivores like tigers and leopards who themselves have also disappeared from these places. And dholes are next.
There is thus, no targeted killing of dholes as its pelt and body parts are not of any use in traditional East Asian medicine. But with their prey species gone and they themselves getting caught in snares, it is a bleak picture.
The answer lies in solving the snaring crisis so that all wild species in southeast Asia can be saved.
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