Discovering the Dhole

Posted by: Loren Coleman on December 25th, 2006


Remember the episode called "Alpha" in season six of The X-Files? It involved a cryptid dhole from China that was blamed for going on a killing rampage.

The dhole (Cuon alpinus) is in the news because Vietnam feels these allegedly recently extinct "red dogs" are back from the edge in their country.

"In Search for the Endangered Dhole" (Vietnam News Service, December 24, 2006) tells of the new quest for more about these elusive candids and their probable recovery.

Reporter Lam Quang Huy, after giving background information, shared this compelling account of searching for the dhole with villagers:

The first attempt

Cam Chinh Commune is no longer a secluded outback town. A new paved road replaced the rough red-clay path that made travelling to the area difficult. During a visit, Nguyen Van Luong, who was a hunter but has since stopped due to legal prohibitions, told me that he had seen a dhole pack barking as they surrounded their prey.

At first sight, a dhole may look like an ordinary dog, but its large size and hair colour distinguish it from other breeds. It grows up to a metre long, about the size of German shephered, with blazing red hair along its back. Their stomach fur is usually a lighter reddish hue, while their muzzle and tail are black.

The dog’s legs are especially long and its ears are always perked.

It’s most interesting to see how a dhole pack unite in order to kill their prey, said Luong. Feeling a bit adventurous, I asked the old hunter to help me find one in the forest.

"I can help you find a pack. However, you must be very careful and not tell a soul about our trip," said Luong, who set other ground rules before departing. We also brought cameras, traps and a hunting net on our little expidition, just in case.

By noon, while entering Trang Tranh and Tru Lau, we heard some yelps from the other side of the mountain.

"Is that dhole, Luong?" I cried.

"You’re so lucky. You’ve heard dhole yaps on your very first trip. Not everyone has such a luck," he laughed.

We spent most of the day searching, but to no avail. Finally after our legs grew weary and we started to head home, we heard one last yap, beckoning us to investigate.

Luong and I silently crept to the foot of the mountain and held our breath, lying in ambush. We heard more dhole yaps from the mountain across from us.

Luong said those yaps were a signal indicating that the pack was surrounding its prey, and it was nearly impossible for a chital or sambar deer to escape once the dogs had boxed in their target.

We waited until dusk, but did not see any sign of them.

Proof: A captured dhole was evidence that the breed still existed and led to stronger conservation efforts across the provinces.

The Cua dhole

While spending several days in the Cua, I picked up various pieces of gossip from residents that reportedly saw dholes. The locals didn’t understand why the red dogs had chosen the province’s forests as their new home.

Woodsmen had also grown fond of the dogs because dholes are often very friendly. Normally, when they capture their prey dholes only disembowel the animal, leaving the flesh and bone mostly intact.

According to locals, the dogs race to seek men’s approval for their work after feasting.

Once they find somebody, dholes yap fiercly in a peculiar way. Woodsmen have become accustomed to the various yelps and barks employed by the dogs to garner attention, which has led forest workers to declare the sounds as signs of good news to come.

To be honest, I found the tales doubtful at first and it wasn’t until hearing Nguyen Van Nghia, a woodsman living in Cam Chinh Commune, tell his stories on tracking dholes’ footsteps leading to dead animals that I began to believe.

One day while working in the forest, Nghia abruptly heard some loud barking. He was so astonished to hear such sound in the forest that he tracked the noise through the foothills. When he reached the third hill, the woodsmen found a dead spotted deer, which the dholes had killed and eaten the viscera.

Only when the red dogs witnessed Nghia take the dear away did they stop barking.

There have been reports in Cua of dholes suddenly attacking and killing a calf, but other than that the animals keep to the forest. As a result of the calf incendent, the farmers trapped two pups and handed them over to forest wardens in Cam Lo District as an envidence of the animal’s exsistance.

Quang Tri’s forest rangers explained to the community that dholes are an extremely rare species, "a valuable gift nature presents to Cua forest", and are pretected by law.

Foreign scientists were also astonished by the villagers’ find.

After the capture of the pups, the issue temporarelly died away in the minds of most Cua residents. The people only understood they had to protect the dhole pack from falling prey to hunters.

However, scientists several hundred miles away were immediatly enthralled by the news. Leaving Ha Noi, a group of experts from the Institute for Ecology and Biological Resources, lead of Professor Pham Trong Anh and two other foreign scientists, made their way to Quang Tri Province to investigate.

When they arrived, they had their doubts about the dhole’s existance.

"I don’t think dhole can survive in this hilly environment," proclaimed a visiting Russian scientist, and there was a growing fear among conservationists that the evidence gathered during the first search was not from dholes but another species of pack dogs.

After being persuaded by the conservationists to stay a bit longer, the scientist visited the house of Cam Chinh Commune resident who claimed to have accidently trapped a dhole just a few days prior. The Russian scientist still held some disbelief.

He assumed that the trapped animal belonged to another species and asked his host to provide proof. The man hastily gave the hard-to-please expert four dhole legs and a fur pelt taken from the dog’s red abdomen.

The evidence was convincing, even for the Russian. Several days later, the appearance of dhole in Quang Tri Province was officially recognised by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which published the news on their website.

Scientists also sited Cua as another potential location for dholes and immediatly began preservation efforts in the area.

Forest rangers in Cam Lo District estimate there are five to seven dog packs inhabiting Cua, each consisting of six to seven members.

The canines occupy an area ranging from Trang Tranh in Cam Chinh Commune to Tru Lau Forests in Trieu Phong District to the edge of Rao Vinh forest.

The local residents, though, claim that the numbers of dhole packs inhabiting Quang Tri Province is even bigger. Moreover, dholes have spread their terretory to Ba Long, an area located within Yakrong Natural Conservation Park.

"Dholes can be found in Cua and Dakrong District, because the environment there is very good. More importantly, the local residents are cognizant of their task to save the rare species," said Cao Dang Viet, a wildlife conservationists in Quang Tri’s Forest Protec
tion Department.

"They consider dholes a national property so the dogs are no longer being threatened".

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

9 Responses to “Discovering the Dhole”

  1. Ceroill responds:

    I saw this elswhere, but thanks for the pic, Loren. I wasn’t quite sure what dholes looked like.

  2. shumway10973 responds:

    This is good news. At least someone in this world is not out to kill the predators, especially these. They’re kinda cute, almost like a large red fox. Interesting the stories of them seeking human approval. May they be safe and multiply in 2007.

  3. drypondscout responds:

    Fascinating dog. Didn’t even know they existed. Great post.

  4. PhotoExpert responds:

    Very encouraging news both on the dhole side and the human side.

  5. UKCryptid responds:

    Fascinating. Such beautiful animals and a delight to hear they may be making some kind of ‘comeback’, let’s hope they keep up the trend.

  6. kittenz responds:

    I’ve been fascinated with dholes for many years, ever since I first read about “The Red Dog of the Dekkan” in The Jungle Book as a child. Dholes aren’t extinct. Does this article refer to a local race or subspecies of dhole? The species Cuon alpinus is widespread in Asia, although it is threatened over most of its range.

    I believe that dhole contributed to the development of the domestic dog. I realize that this is not a popular view, but some races of dhole are almost identical, phenotypically, to the old-type chow dogs, from the same region of the world where dholes are native. I’m not suggesting that crosses to dholes were frequent or common, but there are accounts of such crosses having been accomplished; I have been unable to find anything about whether the pups from such crosses were fertile but since the chromosomal count for dogs, wolves, and dholes is similar, I suspect that interspecies dog/dhole or wolf/dhole hybrids are probably fertile, at least the females probably are.

    The physical similarities between dholes and chows are very apparent to me: the convex profile of the dhole’s skull is similar to the chow’s, as is the intense red color of the coat (bright russet red is the most common color in dholes – and in chows – although every color from cream to black is found on occasion). There are many other similarities. If even a few pups from ancient dhole/dog crosses survived to breed it would serve to have introduced dhole genes into the larger domestic dog gene pool, and human intervention over a few thousand years of domestication helped fashion those characteristics into modern breeds. Many of the more primitive Asiatic breeds of dogs resemble dholes. It’s even been suggested by some that dingoes are descended from dholes, but I do not believe this is so. I believe that dingoes, dholes, and wolves are distinct but closely related species, and that several other species of wolf-like canids once existed in isolated locations, but were assimilated into the more widespread species until they lost their individual species identities and thus became extinct.

    Dholes are not as well known to us Americans as wolves, but that’s probably just because most of us are of European, rather than Asiatic, descent, because dholes were at least as common and widespread in Asia as wolves were in Europe, and they figure prominently in folklore there.

  7. Tengu responds:

    They are not canines, they have more teats (ten as opposed to the dogs eight but don’t quote me)

    But they are certainly interesting creatures.

  8. Loren Coleman responds:

    Dholes are most certainly in the Family Canidae, and it is proper to refer to them as canids/canines. Some authorities feel their genus should be reassigned to Canis.

  9. kittenz responds:

    Thank you, Loren.

    Dholes are most certainly canines, and they are yet another example of an animal that cannot be neatly pigeonholed into our current system of classification.

    They do retain some features which some people consider to be primitive, notably the possession of more teats than most other canid species, but they also have some features that appear to be more highly evolved than other species, such as their extremely varied vocal repertoire.

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