Dhole

At the end of the last Ice Age, about 15,000 years ago, dholes ranged right across the northern hemisphere, but now their distribution is much smaller.

The Asian red dog, or dhole, ranges from the alpine forests of Russia to the rainforests as far south as Java, but never lives in open habitats. A highly social animal, it is often seen in packs of around ten animals, sometimes as many as 25. In these packs it hunts large deer and sheep up to ten times as big as itself, and has been seen killing tigers and bears. Larger victims are often partially devoured while still alive. An adult Asian red dog can eat 4kg (8.81b) of meat in one hour. The animal has a powerful square jaw, enabling it to disembowel its prey easily.

Most of their hunting is done in the daytime, and although they are not particularly fast runners, dholes pursue their prey in a steady relentless chase, finally exhausting the victim. Both smell and sight are important to them when tracking their prey.

Whether hunting or resting, the Asian red dog leads a well-organized life. The existence of strict hierarchies in packs means that fighting is rare. Females are very sociable and will share their dens with other mothers while giving birth. The males of a pack will help out by hunting and regurgitating for hungry pups and mothers to eat.

The Asian red dog's coat is cinnamon with white patches on the throat and face. The ears are lined with white fur.

Out of all the members of the family Canidae, the dhole is the only species to have one fewer molar in each of its lower jaws. This means that it has 40 teeth in its mouth, rather than 42. Another unusual feature is that females have up to seven pairs of mammary glands rather than the typical five, which may be a reflection of their relatively large litter size. The sexes are otherwise similar in appearance, with no marked variance in size.

A litter of 2 to 6 young is born after a gestation of about 9 weeks, in a sheltered spot among rocks or a hole in a bank. Several females may breed near each other. Dholes are now becoming rare after years of persecution by man, and they are also affected by the greatly reduced populations of many of their prey animals. They are protected in some parts of the range.

Distribution: Occurs in Southeast Asia, from India east to China, and through the Malay peninsula down to Java, but has disappeared from many areas because of forest clearance.

Habitat: Tropical rainforest and forest steppes.

Weight: 12 - 20 kg  (26 - 44 lb), depending on race

Length: 95 - 136 cm (37 - 54 in); up to 42 cm (19 in) tall.

Maturity: 12 months.

Gestation Period: 60 - 63 days; weaned at 6 - 9 weeks.

Breeding: Up to 12, but typically 5 - 10.

Food: Omnivorous, hunting hares and larger quarry such as deer, occasionally berries and reptiles; also scavenges.

Lifespan: 8 years; can be 12 - 14 years in captivity.

Status: Threatened.

Colouration

Dholes from southern areas have shorter and redder fur than those found further north.

Тail

The black tail is bushy in appearance, especially towards the tip.

Skull shape

The skull is broad and domed above; dholes have large round ears and strong, powerful jaws.

Feet

The front paws are partially fused - probably a legacy from the last Ice Age, when these wild dogs would have walked regularly on snow.

A family group, with the young dholes playing outside their den.

GROUP LIVING

Packs of dholes have the strength and determination to dispossess even a fierce predator like a tiger of food on occasion.

Gallery of Dhole