Thursday, November 17, 2011

Creature Feature: Dhole.

Wolves are overrated. Yes, they are cool animals, and yes, they are the closest relatives to the domestic dog, but they aren't endangered, aren't the most powerful predators around, and are overanthropomorphized like crazy. They are not even endangered anymore, so wolf-lovers cannot use the generic "it's endangered so it must be cool!" defense. There, I said it.

Instead, how about investing your collective energy into canids that do need love and are actually rebellious? Dholes fit the bill nicely, and probably look just wild enough to incite the inner rebel that we all have during our teenage years.

From the University of Massachusetts.

Dholes (Cuon alpinus) are a type of wild dog native to South and Southeast Asia. They are called red wolves, red dogs, whistling dogs, chennai, and mountain wolves. The main differences between these dogs and official members of the genus Canis (wolves and domestic dogs) are the amount of teats and teeth. Yes, mammal classifications are that subtle.

 Dholes have a few other, more visible traits that sets them apart from wolves. For example, they always let their puppies eat first at a kill. As in the video above, they also whistle to talk to each other; it is a much more pleasant sound than barking. This creature should be instant mammal fan fodder, looking like a wolf mixed with a fox, but nope. No love. 

Dholes, like honey badgers, show almost no fear. Once they get in a pack, anything except humans becomes fair game.  They will attack boars, wildebeests, and even other big predators like tigers and leopards. Although instances of taking on tigers are rare and always come with casualties to the pack, dholes have been known to chase tigers into trees. Tigers that run rather than fight are nearly always killed. When was the last time one saw a wolf doing that?

Unlike wolves, even native cultures have nothing good to say about dholes. Until dholes were officially protected in 1972, farmers shot them in the name of protecting livestock. Their pelts were also valuable in China, but still had no "OMG DIVINE STATUS" like wolves tend to get, especially in modern times. In various European sources, such as the French passion plays and gothic sagas, dholes are characterized as hellhounds. Even Rudyard Kipling cut the dhole no slack in Red Dog, and he's the guy who made a giant python into a believable, fun character.

Alas, the dhole's range has shrunk considerably since prehistoric times. If art is any indication, the dhole once ranged across most of Eurasia. Now, its habitat is limited to India, Indonesia, and parts of China.  They have been shot by hunters and have niche competition with domestic dogs. (See, anti-exotic people? Even domesticated animals can cause ecological damage.) Sometimes, domestic dogs slip into dhole packs, just because, making things even more confusing.

By the way, dholes do not domesticate. At all. Go with the silver foxes from Russia.

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