‘Dhole! Dhole! Dhole!’ was the despairing cry from a bloodied Won-tolla as he fled towards Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’, echoing the fear and animosity that many have felt towards the ‘Red Dog’ throughout history.
Kipling’s story about the Dhole brings to mind a haunting image of vicious packs, numbering more than a hundred salivating beasts, that hound their kill unto the ends of the earth, running amok through the jungle and leaving destruction in their wake. This tale, along with many other narratives and accounts of the dhole, has played a significant part in encouraging people’s misconceptions about this animal. The only fact that the story of the Red Dog seemed to get right is the colouration of dholes; they are indeed a beautiful rusty ochre with enviable brown highlights, that seem to vary with season, age, and region.
In this blog mini-series, we will debunk some myths surrounding the “Devil’s Dog” and talk about all the things that make the dhole worth studying, understanding, and conserving. Using popular references from Kipling’s illustrious piece, we will explore how historical perceptions of their behaviour and character have been challenged by scientific studies, and what this means for future conservation efforts.