BY LIBBY HAYES
I have recently just returned from two weeks spent in beautiful Thailand. Thanks to winning an Earthwatch scholarship through the Dallas Zoo Docents, I got to spend a full week in one of Thailand’s national parks assisting in research on dholes, Asiatic wild dogs, as well as travel to other areas of Thailand the following week. While I did not have the pleasure of seeing wild tigers, I was immersed into the culture of the country and have seen first hand the other species that need protection.
A meadow in Khao Yai National Park where dhole are found.
Tigers are unique species in their apex predator status and are considered an umbrella species of the areas they live in. By calling tigers umbrella species, it is referring to all of the other animals that live in their environment – under their ‘umbrella.’ When you conserve tigers, you are also helping conserve the other species living in their habitat. From my recent experience, I have become heavily aware that by saving tigers you are also saving dholes.
Dholes are small canids that live in a pack or clan social setting with multiple males and females hunting together. They are found throughout different countries of Asia, frequently overlapping habitats of tigers. They hunt a lot of the same prey species such as sambar deer and muntjac. Lots of native people think that there is a dhole problem and that they are causing too much of a decrease in hoofstock numbers in the national parks. Because they are a social animal, when seen they appear in groups of about a dozen, sometimes all the way up to 30-40 individuals. Because of these large numbers, much of the general public thinks they are doing well and possibly even over-populating their regions. In all reality, the actual number of dholes in specific regions is still unknown.
Dhole are a social species that lead their prey to water to ambush them.
The research I was able to be a part of was using camera trapping to get better visuals on individuals and their hunting behavior. There have also been several dholes that have been radio collared, and that information is showing us more of their ranges and activity information. More information coming in is letting us know that while they hunt together, they don’t always spend all of their time together and members of the same pack or clan can be found in different areas. So at a glance it may seem like there are more dholes and/or more clans than there really are. The research is also analyzing dhole scat to determine the primary composition of their prey. This information has shown multiple species of animals being consumed, even including wild boar and porcupines.
During the physical exam (which includes a dental checkup), a radio collar is added to track the individual and their activity.
Dholes are an amazing species that need saving, and currently there are minimal conservation groups specifically dedicated to them. There is the Dhole Conservation Fund, a keeper created project to not only raise money for dhole conservation but to better educate the public on the species in general. Go ‘like’ their page at https://www.facebook.com/DholeConservationFund/. But as indicated above, by saving tigers, you are also saving so many other species. You are saving gibbons, pangolins, orangutans, elephants, and so much more! So please consider donating to tiger conservation, you can donate here www.theprustenproject.org/donate.html