The dhole or Asian wild dog (Cuon alpinus) remains somewhat mysterious, now classed as endangered by the IUCN with a declining population of less than 2500 adults. This member of the canid family is genetically much closer to the African wild dog than to near neighbours such as golden jackal or Indian wolf. Dholes are found in Central, South, East Asia, and Southeast Asia, but until 12,000 to 18,000 years ago used to range throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. One of their greatest threats currently is disease transfer from domestic dogs.
Dholes are highly social, live in clans of 12 – 40 individuals without rigid dominance hierarchies. Females give birth to 4-6 pups in early spring, the pups grow up alongside other litters in large and often elaborate dens, with one or more adults always staying at the den to guard the pups. By six months old the pups will join the rest of the pack in hunting.
They are known as diurnal hunters, beginning their hunts in the early morning in variously sized packs, the chase will often be less one kilometre, but may take several hours with different dholes taking over the lead. Once the prey is exhausted, the pack will group together to bring the beast down from behind while a lead dhole will maintain a bite-hold to the nose or face until death. Depending on group size, their prey can be as big as an adult nilgai or sambar deer gaur, and like tigers and leopards they will commonly take langurs, wild boar, chital deer and cattle or goats, hence there is significant competition. There are many reports of dholes driving tigers, leopards and bears from their kills. Like dogs, dhole enjoy the addition of fruits, vegetables, herbs and grasses to their diet.
Dholes are dog-like in appearance, almost a cross between a red fox and a grey wolf but with a convex rather than concave skull, and more cat-like slender limbs and long backbone. Their tails are particularly fluffy, and their ears are upright and slightly rounded, though less so then the African painted dogs. A number of sub-species have been historically proposed, but modern genotype studies have not found clear subspecific distinctions, but in general the dholes seen in India, East Russia, Sumatra and China south of the Yangtze River have a reddish coat with paler neck, muzzle and underbelly. Populations in Himalayan regions, Eastern Russia and China, are more yellowish grey, and somewhere in-between yellowish-red in Mongolia, Thailand, Malaysia, etc…
In India the dhole goes by many names, largely unflattering owing to their fearsome reputation, like ‘devil dog’, ‘red devil’ or ‘hounds of Kali’, and they are thought to have been variously portrayed as hellhounds in European literature between the 5th and 16th Century. Despite remaining shy and vicious in captivity, they are not actually known to attack humans and seemingly also prefer to avoid domestic livestock even when grazing away from human protection.
Black Panther wildlife safari in Nagarhole national park
Sometimes circumstances come together at just the right time in the world of wildlife travel and big cat safaris, to inspire you to put together a specialist photography wildlife tour that will focus on just one species; and this is exactly what we have here with this small group Black Panther safari in Nagarhole national park. Not only was I lucky enough while in India during May 2017 to make contact with a wildlife guide who has seen and photographed the Black Panther on a number of occasions; but he also agreed to be our main guide for the entire stay at Nagarhole national park – this is crucial to the success of the Black Panther wildlife tour due to the ‘intense’ bureaucracy in India’s national parks. Not only do we need to apply for special permissions to have the right type of vehicle for our photography group; we also need a wildlife guide at Nagarhole that can optimise our choice of zone or route in order to maximise our opportunities to see the Black Panther in Nagerhole.
Best time to see Black Panthers in Nagarhole national park?
According to sources in Nagarhole national park the best time of year to see the Black Panther is March and April, so on this basis we have meticulously planned our dates to (1) Avoid the very busy Easter Holidays and (2) Avoid some local holidays in South India to be at the park at a ‘relatively’ quieter time. This is relative, as with such a longer, specialised safari lasting 7 days, it is impossible to avoid the weekend; which is what we would normally do.
Nagarhole national park – what did we see during the March 2018 and 2019 tours?
Both trips in 2018 were a huge success, with both groups enjoying a single sighting of the Black Panther which was the main objective of the trip. However, even more enjoyable was the almost constant action inside the park, as we enjoyed up to 7 tiger sightings, 5 leopard encounters and multiple superb encounters with a pack of 8 wild dogs, that were an absolute joy to photograph. It is important to point out that a rapidly growing tiger population could make seeing leopards in general (not just the Black Panther) more difficult in the future, so we would strongly suggest visiting ASAP. We just completed our third trip for the Black Panther in March 2019 and this time we missed out on a sighting of the melanistic male leopard. However, the great combination of good quality tiger and leopard action continued for our group members.
Client feedback from 2018.
Seeing 6 tigers ( 3 very good sightings) and 4 leopards (one amazing sighting) in Nagarahole (including the one with the all important black features) was truly beyond our expectations. Arjun was really very helpfull in managing the jeep safaris into the park. We only had to go on a boat safari once and the 2 last days he even arranged it so we could go both morning and afternoon drives into zone A. Thanks Arnie
Just a brief note to thank you for a superb trip to Nagarahole. We were fortunate to see the black panther, albeit briefly, early on during the trip. It was not through lack of trying that we didn’t see him again but had excellent big cat sightings of leopard and tiger as well as other wildlife including elephant, squirrel, mongoose, otters and python. Good food and great company with Richard, Arnie and Edith. Thanks John