I have always had mixed feelings about the Dhole Cuon alpinus, or Asiatic wild dog. My first encounter was on a cold and rainy evening in the 1960s, when my father, E. R. C. Davidar, a lawyer, shikari and later a wildlife conservationist, first brought us to a property in the northern foothills of the Nilgiris, that he and my mother later purchased and named ‘Cheetal Walk’. A pack of wild dogs were dismembering a chital near an old disused well. It was a painfully fascinating but unforgettable sight.
THE SHIKARI’S COMPETITOR
Dholes are cooperative hunters and breeders. They hunt as a pack coordinating their movements by whistles and usually bring down prey larger than themselves, devoured quite rapidly, sometimes while still alive. The British hated them, terming them “vermin”. Fletcher (1911), a planter in the Nilgiri-Wayanad, describing them as “crafty, untiring, cruel and relentless as fate”, wrote, “the wild dog is the curse of the country.” Lt. Col. Phythian-Adams, then Honorary Secretary, Nilgiri Game Association (later renamed Nilgiri Wildlife and Environment Association), called them ‘the perfect swine’ and unleashed a war on them. A bounty was placed on their heads and many were massacred. This was probably because they were rivals to the ubiquitous shikaris of yore.
My father, who succeeded Lt. Col. Phythian-Adams at the Nilgir