The dhole is a canine of average size. It is different from other dog family members with its thicker muzzle, one fewer molar tooth in its lower jaw on each side, and extra teats. Its fur is thick and dense, with the color ranging from pale golden yellow to dark reddish-brown to grayish brown. The dhole’s underparts, such as its throat, chest, belly, the insides of its legs, and its paws, are paler or white. Its eyes are amber-colored. Its rounded ears have paler or white fur, and its bushy tail has a tip of a darker color, mostly black. On its back, there is often a patch of darker fur. In general, dholes that live in northern regions have lighter and longer fur than those in southern regions.
The dhole is an animal native to Central Asia, and South and Southeast Asia. Its range spreads from the Altai Mountains in Manchuria southwards through the forested areas of Burma, India and the Malayan Archipelago. The dhole likes open spaces and is often found on jungle roads, jungle clearings, river beds, and paths, resting during the day. They also inhabit dense forest steppes, hills and thick jungles on the plains.
Dholes live in hierarchical packs numbering 5 to 12 individuals, consisting of a dominant female, a dominant male, and their offspring. Generally, a pack has more males than females, and usually, each pack has only one breeding female. Packs sometimes join up to form groups with up to 40 animals. They carry out cooperative group hunting and look after the young as a group. Despite packs being hierarchical, the members are hardly ever aggressive towards each other. Dholes are primarily diurnal hunters, hunting in the early hours of the morning. They rarely hunt nocturnally, except on moonlit nights, indicating they greatly rely on sight when hunting. Although not as fast as jackals and foxes, they can chase their prey for many hours. During a pursuit, one or more dholes may take over chasing their prey, while the rest of the pack keeps up at a steadier pace behind, taking over once the other group tires. Dholes like being near water. After meals they rush to a water site, or sometimes will leave their kill for a quick drink of water nearby. They have been seen sitting in shallow pools, whatever the temperature of the water.
Each pack contains a dominant monogamous pair, which mates for life. The mating season takes place from September to February. After a gestation period of 60 to 63 days, each female dhole gives birth to typically 3-4 but occasionally up to 10 altricial (helpless) pups. Births take place in a den. Dens may be shared with other breeding females. Pack members help to take care of mothers and their litters, bringing them food (in the form of regurgitated meat) and guarding the dens. The pups begin to explore the area outside the den at 10 weeks of age and start hunting with the pack when they are 6-7 months old. Pups play and fight with each other. Dominance orders are usually established among a pack’s pups by the time they begin hunting with the pack. They are weaned by the time they are 2 months old and they reach reproductive maturity at 1 year old.
The main threat to the Dhole is habitat loss and its degradation. Deforestation has taken place throughout its habitat range as a result of logging, gathering of wood for fuel, expansion of agriculture, and the spread of human settlements. Another important threat is a disease, particularly in India, from domestic and feral dogs. The dhole has also been hunted and persecuted by humans. People have destroyed their den sites and also poisoned, trapped, and shot them for food, for fur, for being a threat to livestock, and because some hunters view them as a competitor.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the dhole is approximately 4,500-10,500 individuals, of which only 949-2,215 are mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Endangered (EN) and its numbers today are decreasing.
Dholes are hyper-carnivores and so are a keystone species in Asian ecosystems. They are hunters and eat larger numbers of prey than any other of the large carnivores in Asia. Consequently, the animals likely have a bigger impact on prey numbers and trophic cascades than any other large carnivore in Asia.