Dhole Fact File

Description . Behaviour . Habitat . Checklist . Interesting Facts
dhole in grass

Along with many other wild canids the dhole has suffered a history of prejudice.

Only with a better understanding can we fully value these unique dogs and their integral role in the forest ecosystem.

Physical Description

The dhole or Asiatic Wild Dog (Cuon alpinus) is about the size of a border collie (12-18 kg), but looks quite different. The coat is usually a rusty red colour, but varies regionally from sandy yellow to dark grey. See our dhole map page for details of regional colour variation (frame-compliant browsers only). Usually it has a black bushy tail and white patches on its chest, paws and belly.  Its ears are rounded, and its hooded amber eyes portray an intelligent nature.  

Within the canid family the dhole is something of an enigma. It doesn't fit neatly into any of the sub-families (i.e. the foxes or wolf-like dogs) and is classified in a genus of its own - Cuon. Among its unusual features is a strange whistle call which it uses to re-assemble the pack when animals become separated in dense forest.  The dhole also has more teets than most other dogs and has a shorter jaw with one less molar on each side of its lower jaw.

Social Behaviour

The dhole is a highly social and cooperative animal, living in organised packs of around 10 individuals. Groups often contain more males than females, with usually just one breeding female. Occasionally, large groups of over 40 dogs have been seen, possibly arising from the temporary fusion of neighbouring packs.

pack on roadTogether with the grey wolf, African hunting dog and Amazonian bush dog, the dhole is one of the few dogs that regularly hunts in packs. This requires intelligence, co-ordination, and sometimes courage! In India, one of the dhole's favourite prey is the medium-sized Axis deer. On occasions, however, it will tackle even larger prey like the banteng (a large bovid), and highly aggressive prey like the wild boar. With such dangerous quarry, the dogs can literally risk their lives to secure the food they need to survive. Communal hunting is particularly important during the breeding season when pack members return to the den to regurgitate food for the mother and pups. Sometimes, however, dholes prefer to hunt individually or in pairs, focusing on smaller prey such as hares.

Habitat and Geographical Range

eastern dhole The dhole normally lives in forest habitats, but can also eke out an existence in the open steppes of Kashmir and Siberia. As the Latin name, Cuon alpinus suggests, the dhole is often found in hilly or mountainous regions. The dhole's historical range reflects this great adaptability, extending from India to Russia, and down through China to Malaysia and Indonesia (Java being the southern limit). In recent decades, however, there has been massive habitat loss within this region. Today, very little is known about the dhole's distribution, but restricted surveys indicate serious decline and fragmentation of the former range. The best remaining populations are probably to be found in central and southern India, but even their stability is in question. The urgent need for more information on the dhole's present distribution has been highlighted in the latest IUCN Action Plan for Canids. In response to this plan, DCP have designed a sighting form and questionnaire survey and are compiling information on the dhole's status and distribution. Armed with such knowledge we will be in a much better position to mobilise direct conservation action.



Latin name: Cuon alpinus
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
IUCN status: Endangered
Habitat: usually forest (dry deciduous,moist deciduous, tropical rain forest), also meadows & steppe
Geographical range: Latitude: 10 deg. South to 55 deg. North; Longitude: 70 deg. East to 170 deg. East
Diet: almost exclusively meat: usually deer, but also wild boar, hares, depending on availability
Dental formula Incisors 3/3 : Canines 1/1 : Premolars 4/4 : Molars 2/2
Body length: c.100 cm
Tail length: c.40 cm
Weight: females 12-16; males 14-18 kg
Coat colour: usually a red coat (also brown, yellowish or grey) often with white front & belly & black tail
Gestation period: ca. 63 days
litter size: 1-12 pups
Breeding season: November - April (most births in December in India)
Longevity: At least 15 years in captivity
Sexual maturity: c. 1 year old
Activity pattern: diurnal/crepuscular occasionally nocturnal

Interesting Facts

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