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Canine killers: the conservation threat of dogs

Packs of feral dogs have increased within India, causing losses to critically endangered wildlife in the region Packs of feral dogs have increased within India, causing losses to critically endangered wildlife in the region
17 Jul
India’s booming domestic dog population is attacking some of the country’s most endangered wildlife, and solutions are thin on the ground

Dogs don’t tend to register as invasive species in the same way as rats, rabbits and squirrels, but in many parts of the world they can be just as destructive. Recently, the first ever sub‐continent scale assessment of the impacts of dogs on native species in India was conducted, utilising online surveys and national media reports.

The researchers found evidence of 460 incidents between September 2014 and June 2016, where 80 different species were attacked by dogs, including 31 IUCN Red List threatened species, four of which are critically endangered.

Over two thirds of attacks were by large packs travelling together. Crucially, nearly half of all reported attacks occurred in or nearby designated wildlife protected areas, an indication that current wildlife protections are inadequate against such threats, particularly for wildlife living on the edges of such reserves.

India is now home to an estimated 60 million dogs, including feral dogs that survive on the mountains of trash dumped across the country, and farm dogs assigned with the job of protecting livestock from prospective predators. The demise of India’s vultures (due to ingesting lethal doses of anti-inflammatory drugs previously fed to cattle) whose ecological niche was previously to quickly peck clean the carcasses of dead animals, is believed to have particularly helped fuel the growth in feral dog numbers given that there is far more meat around to scavenge than ever before. More dogs has also meant more rabies infections, and consequentially more human casualties.

‘While multiple reasons have been speculated for the growth of dog populations in India, what has been consistently ignored is the general apathy towards pet ownership rules and the policies for welfare and population control,’ explains Chandrima Home, from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, a non-profit based in Bangalore, India. ‘There are no stringent laws associated with dog ownership as we see for countries in Europe or other parts of the West.’

Home explains that mass-sterilisation is generally seen as the only possible solution to control dog numbers in India – and therefore aid the threatened wildlife – but points out this would come with a high financial cost and require a long-term strategy and large-scale efforts to be effective. She also argues that it is necessary to consider reforming policies regarding dog ownership, seriously tackling the country’s waste management problems, and even allowing dogs to be put down (currently against the law). ‘It took many years for the dog populations to increase,’ she adds. ‘This definitely cannot be solved in a short time.’

This was published in the July 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

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