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Dholes - The Whistling Dog That No One Knows


Hardly anyone knows about them, yet they may be the key to the conservation of natural communities in tropical forests and grasslands of Southeast Asia. The little that is known about dholes is unique and fascinating. They are secretive canids and that live in highly social, close-knit packs of three to 20 individuals. Dholes hunt cooperatively and maintain communication with pack members by 'whistling' through dense forests, which has earned them the name 'whistling hunters'.

Kate Jenks, a Ph.D. Candidate in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation at the University of Massachusetts, focuses her research on dholes in Thailand. She plans to trap adult dholes and (carefully) place radio-collars around their necks. The collars use global positioning systems (GPS) and cell phone technology. Satellites orbiting above the Earth transmit radio signals and by using four satellites, GPS can calculate the location of an animal on the ground. GPS positions are stored in the collar until the dhole is within the cell phone coverage area and positions can be transferred direct to Kate by email. This allows the monitoring of these elusive canids without trekking through difficult terrain and in times when scientists cannot find the packs. Kate will use the GPS locations to identify pack movements and obtain basic behavioral data on pack size, pack structure, and pack behavior.

For conservation actions, it is important to understand the processes that dictate the movements of animals, especially if the behavior will bring them into increased contact with people and other threats. Results from Kate's research will provide information on area and habitat needs for dholes that can be used in wildlife sanctuary management plans. The proposed project will also significantly help in changing common perceptions of dholes, as being a "bad species," by demonstrating their importance in maintaining Thailand's natural ecosystems.

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