Saving Nepal’s last wild dogs

Wild dogs get a bad press in Nepal, almost as bad as hyenas. The fact that the Nepali word for the wild dog (bwanso) is also used to refer to the wolf is part of the problem

Bwanso is used to describe a ruthless or evil human being. However, the Asiatic Wild Dog (also called dhole in India) is a wildlife species on the endangered list, because of habitat loss and a reduction in primary prey like sambar and chital deer. This has led the dogs to attack livestock, so that farmers are now poisoning prey carcass to kill dogs.

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The wild dog belongs to the same family as the domestic dog, Canidae, and like the wolf is a pack-forming animal. It has a rather gory way of hunting — it tears away bits of the flesh of its prey during a chase before finally killing it.

This could be one reason the wild dog has a PR issue with the public in rural Nepal. In any case, there has been a sharp decline in the population of wild dogs in the densely populated midhills, while they are still present in the Tarai national parks.

Like most canine species, the Asiatic Wild Dog is known to form social packs of up to 35 individuals, providing them a distinct advantage over larger carnivores like the leopard or tiger, which have superior hunting skills but stalk prey alone.

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The Gurung people in the Sikles region of the Annapurna Conservation Area compare the bwanso to an untamed wind — it can be anywhere at any time, but is difficult to control. Elders who used to see wild dogs in abundance today report very few sightings, including in the Annapurna Conservation Area, Chitwan National Park, Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve, Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, Parsa National Park and Tinjure Milke Jaljale.

It is estimated that only 500 individuals survive, and even this figure could be inflated. Globally the species is estimated to number only up to 2,200, and negative public perception means it is difficult to mount a campaign to conserve the wild dog. The only way to save the animal from extinction therefore, is to reintroduce it into protected areas where it was once found in abundance.

Yadav Ghimirey is a conservation biologist at Friends of Nature.

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