National study finds domestic dogs pose starvation and disease dangers for a variety of wildlife when they wander into protected areas
Neighbourhood strays have sometimes proved a nuisance in the lives of Punekars for years together. But now, a pan-India survey has found that these canines even pose a threat to the lives of a wide range of wildlife species in the country. The study, which also included dogs in Maharashtra, has shown that, at times, critically endangered species like vultures or the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) are at the receiving end when dogs wander into protected areas. Pune Mirror had previously reported about this issue in the fringe forest areas surrounding peripheral villages of Pune (`Stray threat to state wildlife’, PM, Dec 26, 2013).However, the stray dog menace has become a national problem now, growing further in intensity. The study conducted by researchers from Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (Atree), Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) and Snow Leopard Trust (SLT) through an online survey from September 2014 to March 2016 has details of 363 independent attacks in 291 locations (including the state).In these cases, mammals were targeted in 78 per cent of attacks; 35 per cent happened inside the protected areas. Nearly 43 per cent of the attacks led to death and, in 45 per cent of cases, the prey species were consumed.As much as 81 per cent of attacks were carried out by dogs unaccompanied by humans, with 60 per cent being dog packs.“We are talking about domestic canines and not wild dogs here. Domestic dogs are commensal animals, which live alongside people. Technically, they are companion animals, but if you look at the population of dogs (largely strays), most are free-ranging and have all the possibilities of interacting with wildlife. Many of these interactions occur on the fringes of protected areas and sometimes even inside. Dogs are definitely not supposed to be in the wilderness. But, a huge population of dogs subsidised by humans creates this kind of a situation. Dogs function like any other predator in a landscape. But, their numbers are much higher than any other wild predator as they are subsidised carnivores,“ shared Chandrima Home, one of the researchers from Atree, who has worked on this study along with Abi Tamim Vanak and Yash Veer Bhatnagar from NCF and SLT.

In fact, Bhatnagar has been noticing this problem from the early ’90s. “I had observed this in Spiti’s Pin Valley National Park, where you find a handsome wild goat called Ibex. The dogs belonging to herders there used to chase them and the Ibex used to retreat to cliffs to escape predation. Of course, back then, it was an occasional occurrence. Now, it is becoming a serious threat on account of garbage management and so on.Though wildlife species may not be directly attacked, they fight with the dogs over prey. If a cow or yak carcass is lying for these vultures to be eaten over a few days, the pack of dogs licks it clean in an hour.Sometimes, even before the vultures realise the location of the carcasses, the dogs have already finished them off, thus leading to the starvation of this already endangered species,“ he rued.

Dharmendra Khandal, a field biologist from Tiger Watch, an NGO based in Ranthambore, had similar observations to share. Speaking to Mirror, he said, “There are direct attacks and cases of biting, apart from issues like diseases which come from these dogs. I had seen a family of foxes at a denning site getting wiped out due to the canine distemper virus, which generally comes from these dogs. It happens due to sharing of prey or water with infected individuals among other reasons. In urban areas, work has been done to control the dog population. But, it is yet to happen on a large scale in village areas. Till this population is controlled, the attacks will not reduce.“

Not just mammals, even our feathered friends are attacked at times. “In protected areas, wildlife should be the priority. In Akshi, near Alibaug, dogs are seen chasing migratory birds. In Maharashtra, the problem is also seen in Navegaon National Park and Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. In a bid to avoid their interactions with wildlife, these feral dogs should be taken care of by experts in specialised kennels after removing them from the wilderness,“ said Anuj Khare, honorary wildlife warden from Pune. Shree Bhagwan, principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) for the entire state, was unaware of the statistics. “So far, we have not received the findings of the study. Once they are shared with us, we will accordingly set up expert committees to see what can be done to reduce the stray population in and around protected areas,“ he said. But, the forest department has already been trying to solve the problem sans casualties. “We do not allow the dogs to enter protected area since the forest act does not allow so. We chase away the alpha male with catapults so that other dogs follow him outside,“ added Sunil Limaye, chief conservator of forests, Pune Wildlife Division.

Source : TOI