The world knows many a beautiful animal - though if you ask me, each species of animal is stunning in their own way. But there are those creatures that one only need to take one look at to be in awe. Two such unique animals that undoubtedly fall into that category are the Dhole and African Painted Dog.
Both species are canines, yet it is still up for debate to which extent both wild dogs are related to wolves, or if they might occupy a different branch of the canine subspecies. Similarly, there is uncertainty to which extent the Dhole can be regarded as having several subspecies, where there is certainty the African Wild Dog is the only surviving subspecies of its genus.
The Dhole is a beautiful dog, occuringly natively in Asia. They have a coat of a rusty orange hue, sometimes with white accents, sometimes only with dark or black accents in their face or tail.
They originally roamed a territory that spanned across Asia and into Russia, yet it has been deemed Endangered in the latter region, and no reports exist of it recently being seen there, nor in surrounding territories. However, they have been sighted and documented in areas of China and souther Asia territories, though unfortunately, they have and are still encountering many problems in the territories they call home.
Although they have a rather noticeable fur - one might say, not unlike a Fox - they haven't been overtly hunted for said fur. Instead, they are threatened for the danger they might pose to livestock and local wildlife; the former being a source of food and income for citizens, the latter the target of those same people who enjoy hunting themselves. Hunting on small widlife has been introduced to the region by the British, as native Asians had adopted the practice of appropriating Dhole kills for their own consumption.
Though Dholes actually roam a rather vast territory, they are a rare sight. Where Tigers and their declining numbers are widely publicized, Dholes know a similar population decline but sadly, enjoy less of the same kind of attention - leading to little conservation efforts directed to Dholes.
Researches presume there are ony 949 to 2,215 breeding Dholes left in the wild. This poses a threat t Dholes, as they are highly social animals who live in clan groups. Within this structure, one will find a dominant pair, yet their clan dynamics show some significant different to better researched canine behavior as that of Wolf packks. Dholes are known to hunt not in one large group with all clan members, but might branch off into smaller groups, hunting more efficiently in regards to certain types of prey. Depending on their territory, clans can number anywhere from 5 to 15, yet clans of 40 and historically 100 have been observed.
As Dholes are known to hunt in groups, they are able to take down prey that is far larger than an individual Dhole - weighing between 12 to 18 kilos - making them a fair bit smaller than the average Wolf. Despite this seemingly slight size, Dholes are also able to hold their own against much larger, competitive predators they share their territory with such as Tigers, but also (Snow) Leopards, various species of Bears and Wolves. Though bear i mind, this is only possible with large clans of Dholes that are in that moment near one another, and the likely and known result of other interactions, often prove fatal for Dholes.
Interspecies relations with other iconic specis do not always end well for the Dhole, it is actually of vital importance for the potential of its continued survival in Asia, as it relies on protection of habitat of these species to find protection of their own.
Some of the Dholes home countries have issued protection for hem, but there is an overall lack of conservation efforts for these species. Dholes rely on a diet consisting mostly of mat, and as such, needs an abundance of prey animals to sustain their clan numbers.
Therefore the phenomenon of empty forests in Asia is of high impact to this species, where the forest is largely depleted of wildlife. This makes Dholes turn to domestic livestock for prey, to sustain their clans. Farmers are known to kill Dholes who have predated on their livestock either directly or by poisoning cascasses. When the latter method is employed, this could very well lead to the death of an entire clan at once, all members killed as they will all feast on the cascass. But it would likely not just kill Dholes, but as one can see in Africa, it will also have a trickle-down effect on scavengers snacking on the poisoned carcass.
Aside from these threats, Dholes also face danger in contracting diseases carried by domestic dogs roaming the area, which can easily affect wild Dholes.
Why combine the Dhole and African Painted Dog for this Animal Anonymous, you may ask. That's an understandable question; though they occur in vastly different regions, they can both be viewed as wild dogs and in fact, share several behavioral traits. Both enjoy a diet mainly consisting of meat, and display similar group dynamics and somewhat likened body-size.
AFrican Wild Dogs occur in Africa - as the name implies - but currently face a very fragmented habitat of several disconnected areas. Thouh Dholes have been estmated to consist of only a few thousand adults, the future of African Wild Dogs look just as bleak, with an estimated population of 1,400 adults, dispersed into 39 subpopulations accross the African continent.
Of the Canids present on the African continent, the African Wild Dog is the largest, with the ones that can be found in East Africa weighing in at 20 to 25 kilos, while those in Southern Africa tend to weigh 5 kilos more on average, with the female being the smaller one.
African Wild Dogs sport a coat of various colors, distinct to each individual and therefore, an easy identifier. Their pattern mainy consists of a brownish yellow with black and white, covering the body in patches or spots that look painted on the body. Therefore, they are also lovingly referred to as Painted Dogs. Most individuals sport little markings on their face, with the muzzle being mostly black.
African Wild Dogs live in packs numbering between 2 to 27 adults, though smaller pack numbers ranging between 4-5 and 8-9 are common occurences in national parks. Males outnumber females in packs, as females will leave their childhood pack once they reach maturity, and will disperse to join other groups. This is a necessary feat, as pup litters have been documented to count 6 to 16 pups, one of the highest numbers amongst all canines.
As the Dholes, African Wild Dogs face several threats across their habitat, with the most pressing one being the fragmentation of said habitat. This is in and of itself a danger to them, as they lack the territory to establish large pack numbers, while the fragmentation also introduces the threat of inbreeding among related Wild Dogs, making them more prone to genetical diseases and disadvantageous traits.
Sharing their territory with Lions has proven to be tough on Wild Dogs, as they are significantly larger and live in groups (prides), posing a threat to pups and young African Wild Dogs. Spotted Hyenas are not above stealing the kills of Wild Dogs, with varied sccess. Like Lions and Wild Dogs, Hyenas live in groups and though they may have success in intimidating the Dogs, these are more likely to help one another fend off approaching Hyenas - also standing strong in a defensive line, making success a possibilty.
Like many large predators, the African Wild Dog is further threatened by retaliatory or preemptory killing by humans because of the threat they (may) pose to their livestock. Furthermore, humans form a threat to their survival due to encroaching on territory on which the Wild Dogs roam, as well as the spread of diseases from domesticated dogs to the wild dogs.
Happy baby news
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park welcomed TEN Dhole puppies in 2016. This video of the inquisitive pups will undoubtedly steal your hearts
Similarly, this video of round-bellied, young African Painted Dog puppies will melt your heart
For more reading on either of these two charismatic species, follow any of the following links: