Dogs Are A Threat To Threatened Species World-wide
A recent study by a team of leading international researchers, including Dr. Abi Vanak from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore reveals that dogs have contributed to 11 vertebrate extinctions.
Photo: Saurabh Sawant.
Dogs are also a potential threat to at least 188 threatened species worldwide, including 96 mammals, 78 bird, 22 reptile and three amphibian species. This includes 30 critically endangered species, two of which are classified as “possibly extinct”.
These numbers place dogs at world’s third most damaging invasive mammalian predators, behind rodents and cats. Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) have a near-global distribution and range from being feral, free-ranging to domesticated.
While predation is the most frequently reported impact of dogs, disturbance, disease transmission, competition and hybridization are other reasons through which they endanger wildlife. Regions with the most species impacted are: South-east Asia, Central America and the Caribbean, South America and Australia.
All types of domestic dogs can interact with wildlife and have severe negative impacts on biodiversity. The study uses the IUCN Red List data to quantify the number of threatened species negatively impacted by dogs, assess the prevalence of different types of dog impact, and identify regional hotspots containing high numbers of impacted species. Using this information the study highlights key research, management gaps and priorities.
Researchers suggest that domestic dogs can be better managed through strategic engagement with animal welfare and human health campaigns. This will tackle not only the security of several species threatened by dogs but will also prevent the risk of rabies that these animals pose, especially in developing countries.
Community engagement and education are also equally important— responsible dog ownership should entail that these animals don’t disturb the populations of other species. Dogs that aren’t completely dependent on humans often rely on resource subsidies, either in the form of poorly disposed garbage or through feeding.
These anthropogenic pressures have increased free-ranging dog populations and need to be mitigated. Such actions are essential for the persistence of threatened species, especially given that human and dog populations are expected to increase both numerically and geographically in the coming decades.
A recently published paper in the journal Ambio reveals that free-ranging dogs have become a major predator of livestock in the Upper Himalayas. Chandrima Home, a PhD scholar at ATREE, who studied patterns of livestock killing by feral dogs, found that free-ranging dogs killed more livestock than snow leopards, threatening to undermine conservation efforts that have involved local communities.
Dog attacks have also caused high economic losses to people. With continued predation of livestock, the last five years have seen a major decline in the population of small-bodied livestock (sheep and goat) within the landscape. Many villages have stopped keeping small bodied livestock due to increased frequency of depredation by dogs.
The current rules and regulations in India prescribe that the only method for regulating dog populations is through sterilisation. However, sterilisation is unlikely to solve the problem in the short-term, especially since it is likely that only a small proportion of the dog population is becoming feral and may be responsible for most of the attacks. These feral dogs can be seen in the periphery of villages and in the pastures. It is, therefore, necessary to tackle this issue head on by removing such problem-causing animals. Proper waste disposal strategies and encouraging responsible dog ownership will help reduce the dog population over time and will alleviate the incidences of livestock depredation.