Dr. Kate Jenks, Conservation Biologist at the Minnesota Zoo, is in Myanmar where she is exploring options for the Zoo to become involved in the conservation of endangered dholes (also known as Asian wild dogs), in partnership with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.
I jiggled, jolted, and bumped along a dirt road for an hour in an open jeep, followed by 45 minutes on a motorbike along a rock-strewn trail weaving back and forth up the mountain, and then walked an hour through dense forest to reach our target of Khin Village on the boundary of Natmataung National Park,Mynamar. I wanted to interview the villagers about wildlife. To do this we showed them photos of different species one by one.
The gibbon photo? “Yes, we have those. We hear them calling in the morning.” The barking deer photo? “Yes, we are able to hunt these small deer, but the hunting is not as good as it was when our fathers were young.” But as I flipped to the next photo the room erupted in a flurry of comments and men stood to point and gesture, all focused on a single image. The photograph was of a dhole or Asian wild dog. “Yes, we know this vermin! We hate these and shoot them because they kill our livestock. This is the one!”
During our trip we visited three remote villages on the boundary of the park to ask about wildlife conflict. Discussions usually took place with a group of ten to twenty villagers in their one-room schoolhouse. There was always commotion when the dhole photo was shown. Every village group identified dholes as a problem. The dholes prey on mithun and goats. In one village they reported dholes killed 35 mithun this year. Mithun are a gaur-cattle hybrid and are extremely valued livestock. So, we can certainly understand why these villagers shoot and trap dholes. But, dholes are also an endangered species with fewer than 2,500 remaining in the wild. My next challenge is to plan how we can help the head warden of Natmataung deal with dhole-human conflicts.