Dr. Kate Jenks is a Conservation Biologist at the Minnesota Zoo. She was recently in Thailand leading the Zoo’s efforts to save endangered dholes (otherwise known as Asian wild dogs) in partnership with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). The team was hoping to place GPS collars on dholes to track their movement patterns and assess threats to their survival. This work is funded through private contributions to the Minnesota Zoo Foundation and grants to SCBI. Check out the first blog of this series for more background information here.
At first nothing is visible as we slowly approach the trap site. There is no movement. Then, suddenly, someone spots a swishing tail. Another jackal? It would be exciting, but our team is exhausted and we don’t want to go through the whole process (injecting the animal so it goes to sleep, checking its temperature and health, measuring all body parts, getting a weight) a fifth time for an animal that is not our target species. We have already safely captured and released four Asiatic jackals. But, we are hoping to capture a dhole (an Asian wild dog).
A little squinting into the flashlight beam and confirmation—it is finally a dhole! The veterinarian injects the dhole with drugs to anesthetize it (so it is sleeping). After the drugs take effect we are able to safely lift the dhole into the back of the truck. We have to move the animal and ourselves away from the area because tonight there are elephants nearby, wandering through the night, munching away on bamboo. It would be a bit scary to work on the dhole and also be worried about a charging herd of elephants.
We carefully lay the dhole out on the back of the truck. It is an adult female. The first and most important job is for our vet, Sarah, to stabilize the dhole. She makes sure that the breathing is regular and strong and that the dhole’s body temperature is not too high or too low. The dhole is sleeping deeply, but we still work quickly. Sarah checks for any injuries and examines the dhole’s ears, eyes, and teeth. I take on the role as data recorder as my colleague, Dr. Nucharin Songsasen, from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, takes various body measurements. It is rare to handle a wild dhole, and any information we can collect is important. We collect blood and hair samples. We maneuver the dhole into a sack and weigh her using a luggage scale. She is 14 kg (31 pounds). The final step, one that I have been envisioning for months (even years), is to place a GPS collar on the dhole. The collar will record her location every four hours and send the data to my email. I am excited to potentially have a nearly real-time map of the dhole’s movements for the next year.
The team named the dhole Valentine because we first captured a photograph of her on a camera trap on February 14th. The data we collect will be used to learn how much space a dhole pack uses, where they travel, and how often they come into contact with threats like humans or other carnivores that may be carrying disease. Stay tuned as we track Valentine throughout the year!