Real bite: study finds that dog-wildlife interactions are getting deadlier
Dogs may be man's best friends but for the rest of the animal kingdom, they are carnivores. If that sounds difficult to believe because of your furry friend at home, a recent study found that dogs are a major threat to wild animals both inside and outside protected forest areas.
The study, a survey of wildlife researchers, found that 74% reported attacks by dogs on wildlife. Of the total attacks, 35% occurred inside protected areas and 43% led to death of the animal.
Spotted deer was the most attacked species - one-third of all reported attacks. Sambar, Blackbuck and Nilgais were victims in 10-14% of the attacks.
The survey respondents included not just researchers but also naturalists and journalists. It was conducted from September 2014 to March 2016. Overall, 363 attack incidents were reported by those who responded to the survey, spanning 291 locations in India.
The study also recorded dog attacks on several critically endangered species, such as vultures and the Great Indian Bustard.
Interestingly, even carnivores were at the receiving end of dog attacks - 17% of those recorded in the survey. These include leopards, wolves, foxes and mongooses.
Of the dog attacks, 60% were by packs of dogs.
Conflict on the rise
The study was conducted by Chandrima Home and Abi Tamim Vanak of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), Yash Veer Bhatnagar of the Nature Conservation Foundation and Snow Leopard Trust.
"Our study shows that dogs are an under-reported source of mortality for a range of wildlife in India, including critically endangered species," the researchers wrote in a post in Conservation India.
Indeed, dog-wildlife conflict has been on the rise.
According to the Snow Leopard Trust, in the Spiti Valley region of Himachal Pradesh, feral dogs kill more livestock than snow leopards or wolves.
The deaths of nine lions at the proposed safari project in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh, too had a dog connection. The death of some of the lions was attributed to canine distemper, a communicable disease spread by stray dogs.
Call the dogs off
Canine distemper has also affected tigers, sometimes by contaminating the drinking water sources of the large cats such as in Ranthambore National Park, said Dharmendra Khandal, conservation biologist with Tiger Watch. The distemper and direct attacks by dogs are a problem.
"In a year, no fewer than 30-40 animals are killed inside the park by stray dogs. They form gangs of about seven dogs, and for attacks they have adapted to the behaviour of dhols (wild dogs)," Khandal said, adding that the only solution is to eliminate the dogs, as there isn't any capacity with the government can carry out mass neutering. "Also, if these dogs are moved elsewhere, other dogs would eventually find their way there."
It can't be a single solution. We need to change the attitude about dogs. They are companion animals, and if people want to keep dogs, they should be responsible for them," Chandrima Home, the lead researcher of the study said.
"It has to be a combination of methods, such as restriction of free-ranging activity, removal of unowned dogs, as also reducing food availability, either from direct feeding or garbage. More importantly, there needs to be transparency in the way different programmes are conducted. "
The study was presented as a poster in a conference on Behaviour, Ecology and Evolution held in March 2016 at Corbett National Park, and a final report will be published later.