Did you know that the Minnesota Zoo is one of only four places in North America where you can see a dhole? (Pronounced dole – like the banana brand). Dholes ( Cuon alpinus ) are wild canids—mammals that are members of the dog family. If you spotted them at the Minnesota Zoo, you may have thought they looked like red foxes or some kind of small wolf. Most people have never heard of a dhole, but they are important predators in tropical forests and grasslands of Southeast Asia. Minnesota Zoo Conservation Biologist, Dr. Kate Jenks, co-leads efforts to study wild dholes in Thailand.
There are about 2,500 dholes left in the wild. This means that there are fewer dholes than tigers left in the wild! They face the same threats that other wild canid species, like wolves, face. Dholes suffer when their habitat is destroyed to make room for farming or when poachers kill deer (the dhole’s main food source). In some countries, dholes are killed by people who blame the dholes for killing their livestock. Also, dholes may get sick from domestic dogs that have not been vaccinated against disease.
Biologists at the Minnesota Zoo are trying to help remaining dhole populations in Thailand in partnership with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. They are gathering basic information about how dholes use their habitat, evaluating current threats to dhole populations, educating local communities about dholes, and developing a management plan for the species in the wild.
The first step is to find shy and elusive dholes in the forest. Minnesota Zoo Conservation Biologist, Dr. Kate Jenks, uses camera-traps to track the locations of dholes and other wildlife. She also plans to place GPS tracking collars on dholes from different packs. The data recorded from these collars will help scientists learn where the dholes travel and if they roam close to areas where dogs live. When dogs and wildlife meet they can spread diseases. This is dangerous because already-small dhole populations could crash if they catch a new disease.
If scientists “catch” photos of collared dholes in camera traps, this could improve their ability to tell apart and count how many dhole packs live in the area. This will help scientists outline home ranges for dholes and may lead to ideas for preserving or recovering dhole habitat.
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