Science

Dogs that have turned predators

Of the 80 species that the dogs attacked, 31 are listed as ‘threatened’ and four as ‘critically endangered’.  

No less than 80 species of wildlife in India have been attacked, often fatally, by an animal made ubiquitous by humans — the domestic dog. And a good proportion of these attacks have taken place in or around the country’s protected areas.

Blackbuck and desert foxes, olive ridley turtles and vultures — and even a leopard — are among the species attacked between 2000 and 2016, finds a study published in the journal Animal Conservation. As much as 48% of these incidents occurred within or near protected areas — from Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra to the Wild Ass Sanctuary in Gujarat and Nagarahole National Park in Karnataka.

At 60 million, the dog population in India is the fourth highest in the world, and this owes largely to poor population control programmes, weak dog ownership rules and freely available food waste, says the paper.

It is particularly worrying that so many attacks are taking place in and adjacent to protected areas, it adds. “In a country like India where protected areas are generally small and unable to meet the space requirements for many species, domestic dogs seem to be a pervasive threat for biodiversity.”

The study reveals other patterns. The majority of attacks are by packs of dogs, not individual animals, with packs comprising as many as 25 dogs. Nearly half (45%) of these led to the death of the wild prey. And most of the dogs’ targets are ungulates, largely spotted deer and sambar. Domestic dogs don’t just threaten wildlife through predation, they also transmit diseases and trigger “fear-mediated behavioural changes,” says the paper.

For the study, the authors conducted questionnaire surveys of nearly 700 citizen scientists — including conservationists, wildlife managers, researchers and naturalists. They also analysed reports from national print media.

“It isn’t unusual for domestic dogs to venture from human habitation into wildlife areas in the vicinity to hunt or forage,” says co-author of the paper A.T. Vanak, a wildlife scientist with the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bengaluru. “They haven’t fully lost their wolf instincts. They form packs — although not as tight as wolf packs — and often hunt together.” Of the 80 species that the dogs attacked, 31 are listed as ‘threatened’ and four as ‘critically endangered’ in the IUCN Red List.

As mitigation measures, the authors recommend ‘responsible dog ownership,’ which focuses on population control, vaccination and control of free-ranging behaviour to minimise contact with wildlife. In areas of ecological importance however, the ‘active removal’ of feral dogs might be part of the solution, says the paper.


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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 5:56:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/dogs-that-have-turned-predators/article22267094.ece

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