As a happy consequence of snow leopard surveys being conducted by our teams across China, we are pleased to report important new evidence of populations of the dhole Cuon alpinus from two sites in north-west China. The first is from camera-trapping surveys in the Shulenan Mountain range in Yanchiwan National Nature Reserve on the northern edge of the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau in Gansu Province. Here, on two occasions, we have recorded a single female with at least two pups. The first photographs, in May 2013, showed a female with two pups <1 month old. The second set of photographs, in July 2013, showed a female with two older pups, perhaps 3 months old. The timing is consistent with these being the same individuals, as is the distance between the camera stations of 4.5 km. However, as there were no distinguishing features visible, we were unable to determine conclusively whether these were the same individuals. Further photographs taken between January 2013 and May 2014 revealed dhole packs of at least five individuals within the Reserve. It is not possible to determine how many packs live in this area. Information about dholes has also been reported by local livestock herders and confirmed by local staff within the Reserve. These reports suggest two or more packs of up to 30 individuals live in this area. Photographs and reported sightings in Yanchiwan occurred at elevations of c. 2,500–4,000 m.
It was also recently brought to our attention that during 2011–2013 livestock herders and local government officials reported dholes in the vicinity of Taxkorgan Nature Reserve, in the Karakoram/Pamir Mountain region of Xinjiang Autonomous Region, on China's border with Pakistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The accuracy of these reports has been confirmed, with herders able to distinguish between pictures of the dhole (referred to in Mandarin as chái: 豺) and the wolf (láng: 狼). Packs of 7–30 dholes were sighted on six occasions in areas to the east of Taxkurgan at c. 2,000–3,500 m. Nine incidences of livestock depredation by dholes were reported during this period, with sheep and yak being the targeted prey. Pack sizes associated with depredation events were reported to be between three and ‘more than 20’ individuals.
With as few as 2,500 mature individuals remaining in the wild, mostly in South and South-east Asia, and populations thought to be in decline, these new records of the dhole extend the known range for the species significantly. The existence of the population on the northern edge of the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau had been suspected, although unconfirmed, since a reported sighting in 2003. There have been no recent records of dholes from the Karakorum/Pamir region and so the new evidence is important. We are now undertaking more detailed surveys for this species in China and neighbouring countries, particularly focused in the Tien Shan and Pamir Mountain region.