Historically, dogs have always been a friend to mankind. They have never been perceived as a threat to humanity or the environment. But now, due to the huge number of feral and free-ranging dogs, roaming around near human habitation, they are one of the major threats to endangered species. After cats and rats, dogs pose a danger to wildlife in many parts of the world.
According to International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), about 200 wildlife species are at risk, 30 species are critically endangered, 71 endangered and 81 vulnerable from dogs’ threat. So why have dogs become a danger to so many wildlife species – let’s take a closer look:
Why are dogs one of the threats to endangered species?
Dogs are threats to endangered species, as they attack in packs. Bigger mammals in the wild are no match for a pack of feral dogs, and thus the number of species at risk is increasing with the increase of dog population.
If free-ranging dogs continue to attack on wildlife, then extremely endangered species such as the Great Indian Bustard will become extinct if dogs continue to prey on it. In Chile, dogs have been harassing many wildlife species.
Dog population is a billion
One of the reasons why dogs, or rather feral, free-ranging dogs have become a problem is due to their sheer number. There are a whopping 1 billion dogs, attached to humans in one way or other on the planet now, including dogs which are pets. The number is increasing every day, and it has been seen that dog population increases as human population increases.
It is difficult to know exactly how many feral/stray/free-ranging dogs are there, but the number is in millions. The relationship between dogs and wildlife has become that of a predator and a prey. The feral dogs have increased exponentially, as they breed unhindered.
In countries like India, which has 60 million dogs, the problem is intensified by the lack of ownership rules, and the availability of food waste. Stray dogs therefore abound near human settlements, and so have many opportunities to interact with wildlife in buffer zones near forests and sanctuaries, or even near areas which are marked for wildlife within towns and cities. Even ‘domestic dogs’ or pet dogs which are fed by the human families they are owned by, they can venture into wildlife sanctuaries and buffer zones.
Which are the main regions whose wildlife is under threat from dogs?
- Central and South America
- Parts of Oceania
How many species are at risk from dogs?
Out of the 200 species at risk , 78 are birds, half mammals, 22 reptiles and 3 are amphibians. The list includes the Great Indian Bustard, Chinese Pangolin, Himalayan Goral, Green Sea Turtle, Bengal Florican, Red Panda, Golden Langur and the Asiatic Wild Ass.
Some studies have shown that dogs have played a huge role in the extinction of eight bird species, including the New Zealand Quail.
What are the ways in which dogs pose a threat to different endangered species?
1. They kill wildlife
Undoubtedly, one of ways in which dogs are threats to endangered species, is that they kill them for food. The scarcity of wild predators has also led to dogs entering forests easily, as there are fewer natural predators to chase them away.
An incident which received a lot of publicity and highlighted the dangerous relationship between dogs and wildlife happened in Tibet. Three free-ranging dogs attacked a snow leopard and another pack of three dogs attacked a polar bear. So, size does not matter when the dogs are hungry and form a pack to attack a single wild animal.
70% Pudu (the smallest deer in the world), which had to be saved and rehabilitated were attacked by feral dogs.
In a survey done in India, almost half of the attacks by feral dog packs led to deaths of animals, including endangered species. In Kaziranga National Park, Assam, dogs have been seen attacking wild hog deer. Golden deer, which have to cross the road from one part of the forest to another, are also attacked by the dogs, which are owned by local farmers to protect their livestock.
2. Dogs compete for prey
Conservationists have found that domestic dogs, kept to protect livestock, but are left free, have an indirect environmental impact. This happens because they compete for prey in the wild, and deplete the food of wild carnivores. Feral dogs hunt hare and other smaller mammals, and bigger mammals such as sambar and chital, deer which are the natural food of tigers, leopards and lions. This also causes human-wildlife conflict as wild carnivores start preying on domestic animals, which is another way in which feral/free-ranging dogs being threats to endangered species.
In Poland, dogs which have gone wild enter caves in which the lynx take their kill and eat the carcasses. The lynx have been seen to be very disturbed when they find that another predator had fed on the prey.
3. Dogs spread diseases
Wildlife is not only killed by dogs, but when they are attacked by feral dogs, and are bitten by the dogs, then diseases such as canine distemper and rabies. These further reduce wildlife populations. For example, there have been cases of rabies in wild animals in Germany, Ethiopia, Nepal and India. Thus, dogs are threats to endangered species, as they spread diseases too, apart from hunting and hounding them.
4. Interbreeding with wild wolves
In Europe, conservationists are worried about another problem – that of feral dogs interbreeding with wolves in the wild. This interbreeding would cause the loss of purity of the genes of the wild wolves’ species.
Dogs which are abandoned, left to roam free or are free-ranging dogs turn into feral dogs which are a big threat to wildlife species. Killing these dogs cannot be considered to be a solution, as it is inhumane. Controlling the breeding of free-ranging dogs, through neutering and spaying, not allowing domestic dogs to roam free, rehabilitating abandoned dogs, and mass vaccinations can be part of the solution to prevent dogs from causing further harm to wildlife.