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Forest loss, livestock grazing driving Dholes to extinction

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Rare to spot in the wild, Dholes, the elusive wild dogs'population is facing severe threat from forest loss and livestock grazing leading to significant a decline.

With less than 2,500 individuals surviving in the wild globally, dhole is already extinct in about 10 Asian countries.

Photo credit: ©Ramki Sreenivasan

A decade-long study led by scientists from University of Florida (USA), Wildlife Conservation Society-India, Centre for Wildlife Studies and National Centre for Biological Sciences, concludes that the proportion of forested areas occupied by dholes declined from 62% of the landscape in 2007 to 54% in 2015.

The decline was far greater in areas outside of reserve forest areas: from 53% in 2007 to 43% in 2015, shows the study published recently in the international journal Scientific Reports.

The study examined dhole distribution dynamics across eight years, first in 2007 and subsequently in 2015, based on indirect sign surveys across 37, 000sq. km of Karnataka's Western Ghats.

"Presence of principal prey species was important for dholes, while livestock grazing activity in forests deterred their presence. Dholes went locally extinct when there was loss of forest cover (across eight years). Protected areas offset extinction rates and are therefore crucial for dhole persistence," said Arjun Srivathsa, the lead author of the study.

Using sensitivity analysis, the study identifies locations where the Forest Department should target habitat consolidation (forests outside protected areas) and increase protection efforts (within select protected areas) for conserving dhole populations.

The authors also caution that rapid forest loss in the Western Ghats would hamper connectivity and severely threaten dhole populations. The study advocates adopting a landscape-based approach and periodic monitoring to ensure dhole conservation in the Western Ghats, and in other critical conservation regions across the species' range.

What is a dhole?

Asiatic Dholes are a type of wild dog. Asiatic Dholes are large and vicious in appearance. The Asiatic Dholes are red furred and known to hunt Asian Buffalo. They range from Siberia to India.

The dhole is a highly social animal, living in large clans which occasionally split up into small packs to hunt. It primarily preys on medium-sized ungulates, which it hunts by tiring.

The dholes are classed as endangered by the IUCN, due to ongoing habitat loss, depletion of its prey base, competition from other predators, persecution and possibly diseases from domestic and feral dogs.

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