A recent study on dhole or Asiatic wild dog, an endangered large carnivore, has found that the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (WSS), a major habitat of elephants and tigers, is also host to a good number of dholes.
The first ever study on the carnivore organised by the Wildlife Conservation Society–India, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, University of Florida, and Stanford University has found that the sanctuary has close to 50 dholes.
“Ours is the first attempt to estimate dhole populations through targeted surveys designed specifically for this species. The results suggest that Wayanad supports high densities of the dhole. A recent tiger survey showed that the sanctuary also has a relatively large tiger population, with 11 to 13 animals per 100 sq km. The fact that two large carnivores can coexist in such high densities is indicative of an abundant prey base and high quality habitat. It is also a testament to good sanctuary management of the Forest Department,” says Arjun Srivathsa, lead author of the study.
Until now, there were no methods available to reliably estimate dhole populations. For the new study, scientists developed a scientifically robust method to estimate dhole numbers using genetic information and advanced population models.
Field surveys were held across 350 sq km of the sanctuary to collect dhole scat (faecal droppings) in 2019 and DNA was extracted from it to identify unique dhole individuals. Combining this with sophisticated statistical methods called spatial capture-recapture models, researchers were able to estimate and map dhole numbers and density across the sanctuary.
“For species like dholes that do not have individual markings, genetic methods are the only way we can get statistically robust estimates of population size. The cutting-edge genetic tools we developed here to understand more about this endangered species will be critical for evidence-based conservation of dholes,” says co-author Uma Ramakrishnan.
The study was recently published in the international journal Biological Conservation.
The authors include Arjun Srivathsa (Wildlife Conservation Society–India and University of Florida), co-lead Ryan G. Rodrigues (Wildlife Conservation Society–India and National Centre for Biological Sciences), Kok Ben Toh (University of Florida), Arun Zachariah (Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University), Ryan W. Taylor (Stanford University), Madan K. Oli (University of Florida), and Uma Ramakrishnan (National Centre for Biological Sciences).