On my first game drive in Tadoba, my safari guide Chirag asked me if I was excited to see Tigers in Tadoba. I had just been to Bandhavgarh and Kanha in my India Wildlife Safari tour in the past two weeks. Needless to say I had some exciting encounters with the Tigers. I told Chirag the magnificent Tigers are always welcome. But can we concentrate our energies on seeing the Dhole. I mentioned to him that I had seen Dhole very briefly, in Kanha National Park.
Indeed, the Asiatic Wild Dog, Cuon alpinus, is a very rare wildlife sighting. During more than 100 game drives in various parks of India where Asiatic Wild Dogs occur, I have only seen them on four occasions. As of today, the global adult population of the dhole is estimated at only 900 – 2,200 adults. The species is thus classified as endangered by the IUCN. A combination of habitat loss, and fragmented populations underlies this decline.
What is the difference between a Wild Dog and a domestic dog?
However, as many folks on game drives inquire, why should anyone be excited about seeing a Dog that has simply chosen to live in the wild? This question is based on the erroneous assumption that the Asiatic Wild Dog is the same species as the domestic Dog. In fact, DNA evidence conclusively demonstrates that the Asiatic Wild Dog is a separate species from the domestic Dog. Humans did selective breeding, from the Wolf, Canis lupus and the dog. Indeed, some three million years have elapsed since the Indian Wild Dog and the Wolf (and therefore domestic Dog) diverged from a common ancestor. They are, therefore, very separate species!
In his book “Mammals of India” (2009), Vivek Menon distinguishes the Asiatic Wild Dog by describing it thus: “A uniquely Asian, reddish-brown forest dog. The Dhole has shorter legs, a more bushy tail, and a thicker muzzle than both the Wolf and the domestic dog. It varies from light sandstone to rust-red. The pelt turning deeper further south. They hunt in packs of six or seven and start eating their prey before it is dead. Usually they clean it to the bones within a few hours. Total body length is 90 cm with a weight is 12 – 18 kg. Prefers open woodland habitat interspersed with grassy meadows.
Dholes in Tadoba
Returning now to my experience in tracking the Asiatic Wild Dogs of Tadoba. Chirag and I set out on five game drives in hope of seeing this amazing Canine species. However, in those game drives over the next three days, we only attained one distant sighting of three Wild Dogs. I was thankful for this but hoped we might do better. Perhaps getting close enough to obtain some good quality photographs.
At the end of the fifth and last game drive, I thanked Chirag and the jeep driver and gave them a tip. We had seen a total of four wild Tigers, three Asiatic Wild Dogs and other wildlife. But Chirag, sensed my disappointment, and announced, “We shall take you tomorrow on a special 2-hour game drive in search of the Dholes. I was very thankful for this extremely kind and thoughtful gesture.
The final safari
The next morning, our jeep was among the first to enter Tadoba. We went along the usual trails where either of the two packs of Tadoba Dholess are usually seen. But we found nothing in the way of either the Dogs themselves or even signs of them. I had to be leaving the park soon and we started to head back along the lake route. Suddeny looking ahead, Chirag cried out, “It’s a pack of Wild Dogs just off the road… and they’re on a Sambar kill!”
For the next 40 minutes, I was in Asiatic Wild Dog heaven. I watched, capturing photographs and video all the while. The six Asiatic Wild Dogs dissembled the Sambar carcass, which had been a healthy, living animal probably just 30 to 45 minutes earlier. The ferocious little Canines were just 4 meters off the road. Perhaps a tad nervous by the presence of our jeep but industriously tearing into their early morning feast just the same.
The following youtube video of this experience tells the story far better than my words could ever convey.
Should anyone consider keeping a Asiatic Wild Dog as a pet, please consider the following (from Wikipedia): “Brian Houghton Hodgson kept captured dholes in captivity, and found, with the exception of one animal, they remained shy and vicious even after 10 months. According to Richard Lydekker, adult dholes are nearly impossible to tame, though pups are docile and can even be allowed to play with domestic dogs until they reach early adulthood.”
I hope that you may have success in finding this rare predator of India, the Asiatic Wild Dog.
May you similarly be blessed with a Dhole moment!
All the best,
John M. Uscian