Protected areas play an important role in sustaining dhole populations in the Western Ghats of Karnataka
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Loss of forest cover and livestock grazing activity are affecting dhole populations in Karnataka's Western Ghats. However, protected areas offer hope in ensuring that the dhole doesn't go extinct. A decade-long study led by scientists from University of Florida (USA), Wildlife Conservation Society-India, Centre for Wildlife Studies and National Centre for Biological Sciences, concludes that the proportion of forested areas occupied by dholes declined from 62 percent of the landscape in 2007 to 54 percent in 2015.
Dholes or Asiatic wild dogs are endangered forest-dwelling carnivores. Understanding changes in their distribution is important for prioritizing and implementing conservation strategies. The Western Ghats perhaps supports the largest dhole population in the world and is therefore a critical conservation landscape for the species. The study examined dhole distribution dynamics across eight years, first in 2007 and subsequently in 2015, based on indirect sign surveys across 37, 000 sq. km of Karnataka’s Western Ghats.
"Presence of principal prey species was important for dholes, while livestock grazing activity in forests deterred their presence. Dholes went locally extinct when there was loss of forest cover (across eight years). Protected areas offset extinction rates and are therefore crucial for dhole persistence," said Arjun Srivathsa, the lead author of the study.
Using sensitivity analysis, the study identifies locations where the Forest Department should target habitat consolidation (forests outside protected areas) and increase protection efforts (within select protected areas) for conserving dhole populations. The authors also caution that rapid forest loss in the Western Ghats would hamper connectivity and severely threaten dhole populations. The study advocates adopting a landscape-based approach and periodic monitoring to ensure dhole conservation in the Western Ghats, and in other critical conservation regions across the species’ range.
The study appears in the recent issue of the international journal Scientific Reports. The authors include Arjun Srivathsa (University of Florida, USA and Wildlife Conservation Society-India), K. Ullas Karanth (Centre for Wildlife Studies, India, Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, and National Centre for Biological Sciences, India), N. Samba Kumar (Centre for Wildlife Studies and Wildlife Conservation Society-India) and Madan K. Oli (University of Florida, USA).