Sy Montgomery: “We treat pet dogs with such sentimentality, while their wild, endangered relatives are feared and persecuted. Why?”
It sounds like a jet – but it can’t be. I look up into the jungle canopy at Khao Yai National Park in Thailand and spot the wings that made the roar: they belong to a wreathed hornbill, a bird with a helmet-like beak half the size of its body, and whose feathers, in flight, can be heard for half a mile. In this park north of Bangkok, on the trunks of trees 10 storeys tall, I can see where wild elephants rubbed their itchy, wrinkled skin, and where moon bears carved inscriptions with their claws.
But I’ve come halfway around the world to this place full of wonders hoping to see… dogs. Red, wild, forest dogs that most people have either never heard of, or consider as pests. Tourists to the park have been known to throw stones at them to chase them off their prey.
‘And they are a critically endangered species!’ laments the conservation biologist Nucharin Songsasen. The interim head of the Smithsonian’s Center for Species Survival, she’s one of two principal investigators on the project I’ve joined, assisted by volunteers from the citizen-science nonprofit Earthwatch. Our team will search for kills and scat, mount camera traps, and try to capture and radio-collar these wild dogs in an attempt to penetrate their secret lives.