Dholes prefer small deer prey in Southeast Asia

August 4, 2020

The dhole (Cuon alpinus), or Asiatic wild dog, is classified as Endangered by the IUCN because it has disappeared from most of its historical range, and remaining populations are fragmented and still declining. The main threats to this species include depletion of their prey base, habitat loss, and persecution due to livestock predation. Depletion of their prey base might be the primary factor for the continued decline of dholes in southern Asia. Thus, identifying the preferred prey of different dhole populations is important because conservation of carnivores often requires management and enhancement of their preferred prey.

India contains the largest remaining populations of dholes, and there have been several studies of dhole diets from this country. Previous reviews of dhole diets, based largely on studies conducted in seasonally dry forests of India, have shown that dholes prefer medium (30–100 kg) and large-sized (>100 kg) ungulates, especially chital and sambar. In Southeast Asia, where populations of dholes are smaller and more fragmented than India, less is known about their diet and prey selection. In contrast to India, most of Southeast Asia is covered in closed evergreen forests, which might influence hunting strategies and preferred prey of dholes. For example, a previous study conducted in the closed evergreen forests in Peninsular Malaysia showed that the main prey of dholes was mouse deer, weighing 1–6 kg. It was hypothesized that dholes live in smaller packs in evergreen forests, and therefore consume smaller prey, although prey selection of dholes from evergreen forests in Southeast Asia has never been determined.

Two WildCRU projects, led by Dr. Jan Kamler and assisted by other WildCRU members including Susana Rostro-García and Chanratana Pin, have shed light on the diet and prey selection of dholes in Southeast Asia. One study site occurred in Nam Et-Phou Louey (NEPL) National Protected Area in northern Laos, which consisted of closed evergreen forests covering hilly terrain. These evergreen forests are typical of those that historically covered most of Southeast Asia. The second study site occurred in Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Cambodia, which consists of open deciduous forests in relatively flat terrain. This habitat, while rare in Southeast Asia, is similar to the seasonally dry forests in India. Our research teams collected scats (i.e., faeces) of dholes on both sites, and DNA analysis confirmed that the scats belonged to dholes. The research teams also conducted prey surveys on each site to determine which herbivores were available to dholes as potential prey.

Results showed that muntjac, also called barking deer, weighing 20-28 kg were the dominant prey item on both sites. Our results also showed that muntjac were selectively consumed over larger deer and other large herbivores in all seasons. Thus, our results differed from previous studies on dhole diets conducted in India. We also found that pack sizes of dholes averaged 6 members in Cambodia, but only 2-3 members in Laos. This confirmed that dholes do form smaller packs in evergreen forests, where small deer are more plentiful than large deer. In Laos, we found that predation on livestock increased during the last dry season, but seemingly because some villagers did not remove their livestock from the park.

Overall, our results showed that regardless of habitat type, prey diversity, or pack size, the management of muntjac will be important for conserving the remaining dhole populations in Southeast Asia. In protected areas where dholes occur, we recommend that managers monitor muntjac populations to ensure that dholes have an adequate prey base. If muntjac numbers are low or declining, then law enforcement activities, such as snare removal and number of patrols, should increase to help stabilize and improve prey numbers. In Laos, we recommend that all livestock are removed from the park during the late dry season, because this would significantly reduce predation on livestock and facilitate better coexistence between dholes and humans.

Read the full article here.

Kamler, J. F., Thatdokkham, K., Rostro‐García, S., Bousa, A., Caragiulo, A., Crouthers, R., Visattha In., V, Pay., C, Pin, C., Prum, S., Vongkhamheng, C., Johnson, A., Vongkhamheng, C & Macdonald, D.W. (2020). Diet and Prey Selection of Dholes in Evergreen and Deciduous Forests of Southeast Asia. The Journal of Wildlife Management.

  • Bobby Jo Clow
  • WCS Lao PDR