Encounter: Dhole – the Indian wild dog

Watching one of our most efficient predators in the wild is a treat and a privilege. Most people might be obsessed with cats, but give it up for the Dhole, our very own wild canid

Just after I told my wife how endangered the Indian wild dog or Dhole (Cuon alpinuswas, we saw about ten of them on our first three trips together. Which, naturally, evoked the question: “Are they really endangered? I have seen more wild dogs than tame ones since our marriage…”

Sadly, they are…

At first glance the dhole is very like a dog

When, as a child, I saw the animated version of Kipling’s Jungle Book, I grew to hate the dholes (red dogs) because they were enemies of the wolf pack to which the protagonist, Mowgli, belonged. Dholes were portrayed as an evil lot, hunting in packs and taking over the hunting grounds of the wolves.
The tail is a definite giveaway, though…

Since, I have heard a lot about dholes. When Beej first told me about the dhole he encountered (with Arun and Sahastra in BR Hills), I had not yet seen one. Soon, I was rewarded with my first encounter. We were driving through Nagarahole along the Mananthavadi road (although calling it a road would be a joke – rutted and potholed as it is, allowing an average speed of 10 kph along the 30 km drive). Suddenly, a canid crossed our track and Prasanna hissed: “Dhole!” It was a female and it lingered about our car, quite unafraid. Soon it was joined by a male that sat on the road next to the car for quite a while, allowing us a good view. He then joined the female and walked along the road before disappearing into the bushes.

The couple that entertained us at Nagarahole…

After that I have had multiple encounters with dholes, most in the last couple of years. Trips to Bandipur and Mudumalai would yield at least one sighting. But my best sighting was in Upper Bhavani in the Nilgiris. Prasanna, me and our wives were on a casual drive from Ooty when we saw a dhole leap right ahead of us on the road. It had a lustrous orange coat, which looked very fluffy, and a very dark tail. It bounded away, pausing ahead to stop and give us a backward glance and then vanished into the forest.

Dholes hunt in packs. They are organized hunters and their skills have been well documented by Karnataka-based wildlife filmmakers Krupakar and Senani in their films Wild Dog Diaries and The Pack. Dholes are known to surround and bring down prey as large as the 1.5 ton Gaur, making them one of the most feared predators.

Tearing into a Sambhar (Photo courtesy: Joseph T A)

My friend Joseph TA was the luckiest of our group, having seen a pack of dholes hunt and devour a Sambhar. Generally, dholes are known to abandon their kill when intruded upon by humans, thanks to the old practice of hunters who used to leave the hunting to dholes and scare them off to take the kill.
Enjoying the feast (Photo courtesy Joseph T A)

Sport hunting and retaliatory killing by villagers whose livestock were taken by dholes have driven these canids to the edge. Thankfully, the active efforts of forest departments and NGOs involved in conservation are helping them recuperate.

Text and photos: Sandeep Somasekharan
Dhole hunting photos: Joseph TA (www.josephta.com | www.facebook.com/JTAPhoto)
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