Conserving the Dhole

A new study identifies priority actions and locations for conserving populations of the endangered Asiatic wild dog or dhole in India.
Country-level species conservation plans serve as a blueprint for identifying important areas, prioritising management actions and channeling conservation funds. India is a biologically megadiverse country, yet many threatened and endangered species do not have science-based conservation plans. In a new study, scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society–India, University of Florida, USA, Wildlife Conservation Trust, and the National Centre for Biological Sciences propose a detailed framework for conserving the endangered dhole in India using a combination of ecological, social, political and administrative information.

The researchers first made a detailed assessment of the current status of dholes in each Indian state. Based on the relationship between dhole occurrence, forest cover, protected areas, human populations and cattle densities, the authors then identified taluks or tehsils for targeting management interventions— areas where dhole populations need to be recovered, areas warranting improvement or expansion of forest habitats, and areas with potential for dholes to expand their distribution range. The study also evaluated state-wise conservation capacity using multiple criteria, like GDP share, poverty levels, state and central budgetary allocations for forest/wildlife sectors, and rejection rate of forest clearances.  

“Dholes play an important role as apex predators in forest ecosystems. Besides the tiger, dhole is the only large carnivore in India that is under IUCN’s ‘Endangered’ category. As a country that perhaps supports the highest number of dholes in the world, we still do not have targeted management plans for scientific monitoring of the species. Our study recognises taluks and states that need to be prioritised, and thereby offers a primer for designing a country-level plan to conserve their populations," said Arjun Srivathsa, lead author of the study.

Dholes play an important role as apex predators in forest ecosystems and is listed under IUCN’s ‘Endangered’ category. Photo Courtesy: Prasad Natarajan.

The study reports that Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh ranked very high on the priority scale, and are adequately equipped to maintain status quo, consolidate forest habitats, and recover dhole populations by increasing prey densities and reducing pressures on forests. On the other hand, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Telangana and Goa will need to increase financial investments towards forest/wildlife sectors, and also resolutely reduce the ease of granting forest clearances for infrastructure projects. Additionally, improving habitat conditions and prey densities in the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha would strengthen the link between dhole populations in the Western Ghats and Central India.

Despite their endangered status, there is a persistent lack of resources and policy focus on dhole conservation. “Alongside a comprehensive assessment of dholes in India, our study also provides an analysis of the current state of knowledge through a review of all published literature on the species. We identify critical gaps that can be explicated through improved funding for dhole research and conservation in India and across its distribution range,” said co-author Girish Punjabi.

The study titled A strategic roadmap for conserving the endangered dhole Cuon alpinus in India was published in the recent issue of the reputed international journal Mammal Review. The authors include Arjun Srivathsa (Wildlife Conservation Society–India and University of Florida, USA), Sushma Sharma (Wildlife Conservation Society–India), Priya Singh (National Centre for Biological Sciences), Girish Punjabi (Wildlife Conservation Trust), and Madan Oli (University of Florida, USA).

Press Release from the Wildlife Conservation Society - India.