Eastern and southern Asia


Dense forest and thick scrublands, open grassland, the Siberian steppe, alpine regions of the Himalayas, and rain forests of Java.

Dholes are dogs!

The dhole (pronounced "dole") is also known as the Asiatic wild dog, red dog, and whistling dog. It is about the size of a German shepherd but looks more like a long-legged fox. This highly elusive and skilled jumper is classified with wolves, coyotes, jackals, and foxes in the taxonomic family Canidae.

Color my habitat

Found in eastern and southern Asia, from Siberia in the north to the Malay Peninsula in the south, dholes occupy a wide variety of climates and habitats, including dense forests, scrub, steppes, and alpine regions. They vary in color from charcoal gray to rust red to sandy beige, depending on their habitat. Their tail is brushy and fox-like, often with a black tip. These wild dogs usually have a white belly, chest, and feet, but not always.

Adult dholes have a long tail and rounded ears, and the males tend to be larger and heavier than the females. Dholes are also very good at adapting to their surroundings, like most dog species. They maintain a very large territory—up to 34 square miles (88 square kilometers)!

The dhole makes some extraordinary sounds: it can whistle, scream, mew, and even cluck like a chicken.
The whistling sound the dhole is known for is so distinct it can be used to identify individual animals.
A dhole can jump over 7 feet (2.1 meters) straight up into the air.
When hunting as a pack, dholes can catch prey over 10 times their own body weight and can even fend off a tiger.

Our first dholes—Olga, Ivana, Ivan, Alex, and Yuri—were Chinese dholes Cuon alpinus lepturus who arrived at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2001 from Moscow, Russia. In 2003, Olga and Yuri produced a single pup, named Nicolai; in 2004, they had a litter of three. In 2010, four pups were born to Anastasia (born at the Safari Park in 2004) and Lucius, who came from the Toronto Zoo in Canada in 2009, and the pair produced four more pups in 2011.

Four cubs were born in April 2013, and we currently have 17 dholes at the Park. The Safari Park is one of only two facilities in North America to have successfully bred this subspecies.

The Chinese dholes live in an off-exhibit area at the Safari Park. The spacious enclosure, with its native plants and plenty of cover, also has four “dog houses,” or shelters, since dholes like to choose where to have their pups. One of the shelters has a remote camera, where keepers can watch any pups born without disturbing the parents.

The highly social and cooperative dhole suffers greatly from habitat loss and fragmentation. Disease and human conflict threaten dholes, which are now listed as an endangered species. Their supply of prey is also running out in several areas. Dholes can easily catch diseases like distemper and rabies from domestic dogs brought by humans moving into the wild dogs’ habitat. In some places, dholes are trapped and poisoned, and their dens destroyed, because they are viewed as dangerous pests.

The primary threat for dholes, though, is habitat loss. As dholes lose places to live and reproduce, so do their prey. If there is nowhere safe to live and nothing to eat, then the dhole will slowly die out. It was estimated in 2008 that there were less than 2,500 adult dholes in the wild.

Skittish, high-strung, and sensitive, dholes are tricky to breed and maintain in zoos. There are only three facilities in the US that have them and only two—the Minnesota Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park—have breeding pairs. The Safari Park has the largest pack of dholes in managed care in the US as part of our long-range conservation efforts.

San Diego Zoo Global funds and supports dhole conservation efforts in southern Asia for this handsome hunter and is involved in a detailed study aimed at increasing our understanding of vocal communication in dholes, the whistling hunters of the wild!

You can help us bring dholes back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.