The dhole was originally distinguished as two separate species of Cuon, but later recognized as a single species, separated into 11, then 3, subspecies.
The dhole was originally distinguished as two separate species of Cuon, the northern Dhole, (Cuon alpinus,) and the southern Dhole, (Cuon javanicus,) based on differences in body size and the second upper and second lower molars.
Dholes were later recognized as a single species, but separated into as many as 11 subspecies based on differences in size, coat length, and color. As of 2005, the subspecies were simplified to 3.
The validity of many of these subspecies is doubtful as genetics studies have found no clear subspecies distinctions. Examination of the auditory bulla showed at least one northern subspecies, from the Tian Shan Mountains, to be morphologically distinct from other subspecies.
The genetic distinctiveness between northern and southern Dholes remains unknown. Further research is needed to clarify the morphological and genetic differences between them, especially because conservation efforts would need to employ different strategies for the two groups, as they occupy vastly different habitats and prey on different species.
The putative northern-Dhole group historically occurred throughout East Asia to as far south as the Himalayan Mountains and the Yangtze River, and would include the following five subspecies: C. a. alpinus, C. a. primaevus, C. a. laniger, C. a. hesperius, and C. a. fumosus. The putative southern-dhole group would include the remaining six subspecies: C. a. lepturus, C. a. dukhumensis, C. a. adjustus, C. a. infuscus, C. a. sumatrensis, and C. a. javanicus.
Three races of the dhole exist in India alone: Trans-Himalayan, Himalayan, and Peninsular.
Sources: (Chacon, 2000; Durbin, Venkataraman, Hedges, & Duckworth, 2004; Ellerman & Morrison-Scott, 1966; Iyengar, et al., 2005; Kamler, et al., 2015; Mivart, 1890; San Diego Zoo Global)
Image: Wildlife Alliance