Given that dholes have disappeared from more wildlife reserves in Asia than have tigers, it’s pretty shocking that we don’t even know why.
What we do know is that dholes need more land to roam than other large Asian carnivores. They also eat more animals (typically deer) in total than tigers and leopards and thus require a sizable population of prey species. So they need more space and more food than other large carnivores but we don’t yet know exactly how much of either and until we do we have two vital pieces of the conservation jigsaw missing. To make matters worse, as dholes become disconnected from each other as their habitat is broken up by human development, disease epidemics that decimate isolated wild dog populations are a real and growing concern.
To get to the bottom of what’s needed to save dholes from a very bleak future, PTES is funding urgent work by a team from the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit based in the Mondulkiri Protection Forest in eastern Cambodia.
(Dhole image above by B-J Clow)
To find out the appropriate size of protected reserves needed to support a dhole population, you need to carefully track the animals’ natural movements without interfering with their welfare. Scientist Jan Kamler is using the latest satellite technology to do just this. He will be fitting satellite collars on two or three dholes in at least four packs to follow their movements and work out the space they need to hunt and raise families. And, when the collars are physically fitted, he is also checking for disease and parasite infestations to see whether there are any endemic diseases in the population.
Finding out what dholes prefer to eat requires something somewhat more low tech: collecting and dissecting their poo. By comparing the contents of dhole faeces to local animal numbers, Jan will finally discover the optimum number of prey species required within a reserve to support a healthy dhole population.
Training and education programmes are being provided to reserve staff and local people so that the Cambodians will be all geared up to maintain healthy numbers of dholes within reserves once the project is complete.
As a top predator, dholes are a very important part of their ecosystem. If we can get their conservation right, we can maintain a whole host of interconnected animals that depend upon them for survival. This is why we need your support.