Dholes (Cuon alpinus) are not very big. They weigh in at a trifling 20 kg. That is nothing compared to a full-grown Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) tipping the scales at 260 kg. It is difficult to imagine even a pack of 40 Dholes taking down a full-grown male Tiger. They might stand their ground, or even mob sub-adults but the possibility of a David-versus-Goliath outcome must be incredibly rare. The only story of a pack managing to achieve such a feat that I have come across is the one narrated by the legendary British hunter Kenneth Anderson (1910-74) in ‘Nine Maneaters and One Rogue’, a book describing his adventures in the jungles of South India. It is significant that it was a Tigress that fell prey to the Dholes. Females of the Bengal subspecies are significantly smaller , weighing up to 160 kg. That could explain the result. Here is the encounter as described by Anderson:

“Wild-dogs, which hunt in packs in India, varying in numbers from three to thirty, sometimes invade these forests from over the boundaries of Mysore and Coimbatore, where they are very numerous, more so in the latter district. These packs are very destructive to all forms of deer, particularly sambar and spotted deer, which they hunt down inexorably, and tear limb from limb while still alive. On several occasions, both in these and other jungles, I have come across sambar actually being chased by these dogs. The method adopted is that, while a few dogs chase the animal, others break away in a flanking movement, to run ahead of their quarry and ambush it as it dashes past them. When hunting, they emit a series of yelps in a very high pitch, resembling the whistling cry of a bird rather than that of a dog. The quarry is brought to earth after being attacked by these flankers, which bite out its eyes, disembowel it, hamstring or emasculate it, in their efforts to bring it down. I once saw a sambar pursued by wild-dogs, dash into a pool of water to try and protect itself. It had been disembowelled and trailed its intestines behind it for the distance of twenty feet. Sambar are extraordinarily hardy, and sometimes are literally eaten alive by these dogs, before being killed.

One evening, at about 5 o’clock, I was a mile from the bungalow, interesting myself in an unusual species of ground orchid that sprouted from the earth in a spray of tiny star-shaped flowers. Suddenly I heard a medley of sounds whose origin I could not at first define. There were cries, yelps, and long-drawn bays, interspersed with grunts and Vhoofs’ that puzzled me. Then I knew that the noise was that of wild dogs, which seemed to be attacking a pig or a bear. Grabbing my rifle, I ran in the direction of the din. I may have covered a furlong, when around the corner dashed a tigress, encircled by half-a-dozen wild dogs. Concealing myself behind the trunk of a tree, I watched the unusual scene. The dogs had spread themselves around the tigress, who was growling ferociously. Every now and again one would dash in from behind to bite her. She would then turn to attempt to rend asunder this puny aggressor, when a couple of others would rush in from another direction. In this way she was kept going continually, and I could see she was fast becoming spent. 

All this time the dogs were making a tremendous noise, the reason for which I soon came to know, when, in a lull in the fray, I heard the whistling cry of the main pack, galloping to the assistance of their advance party. The tigress must have also heard the sound, for in sudden, renewed fury, she charged two of the dogs, one of which she caught a tremendous blow on its back with her paw, cracking its spine with the sharp report of a broken twig. The other just managed to leap out of danger. The tigress then followed up her momentary advantage by bounding away, to be immediately followed by the five remaining dogs. They were just out of sight when the main pack streamed by, in which I counted twenty-three dogs, as they galloped past me without the slightest interest in my presence. Soon the sounds of pursuit died away, and all that remained was the one dead dog. During the affair I had been too interested, and too lost in admiration at the courage of the dogs, to fire at either the tigress or her attackers. Next morning I sent out scouts to try to discover the result of the incident. They returned about noon, bringing a few fragments of tiger-skin, to report that the dogs had finally cornered their exhausted quarry about five miles away and had literally torn the tigress to pieces. As far as they could gather, five dogs had been killed in the final battle, after which the victors had eaten the tigress, and even the greater portions of their own dead companions.”

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons is taken from ‘Dogs, Jackals, Wolves, and Foxes: A Monograph of the Canidae’ (by St. George Mivart), and shows a Southern Dhole (Cuon alpinus alpinus). The illustrations were done by by J.G. Keulemans (a Dutch artist).

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