Camera-traps used in the latest all-India tiger survey captured more free-ranging domestic dogs than tigers in 17 tiger reserves. Presence of both dogs and livestock in significant numbers was recorded in at least 30 tiger reserves.
Experts say the proliferation of dogs and livestock, mostly feral and abandoned, inside forests carries the risk of transmission of various diseases to wildlife. They also compete with wild animals for resources.
While Environment Ministry officials claimed that “these domestic animals were spotted mostly in the peripheral forests away from the core” areas, the quadrennial tiger report does not provide any spatial data on how far inside the tiger reserves the dogs and livestock were photographed.
“We are aware of this problem. Livestock and dogs are found in certain fringe areas close to villages. In view of threats such as canine distemper virus, etc., we are trying to minimise the interaction between these domestic species and wildlife,” said S P Yadav, member secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority, which conducts the quadrennial all-India survey.
New threat in the forest
The increased presence of dogs and livestock presents the risk of predation and disease transmission to wildlife. But the silver lining is their presence has now been officially recorded, and measures can be devised to curb the spatial overlap.
The 2018 tiger survey data show that more dogs were camera-trapped than tigers in 17 tiger reserves. This includes seven major reserves — Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam (Andhra Pradesh), Sariska (Rajasthan), Pench, Panna and Bandhavgarh (Madhya Pradesh), Bhadra (Karnataka), Sathyamangalam (Tamil Nadu) and Melghat (Maharashtra) — that together house almost 400 tigers.
The remaining 10 — Udanti-Sitanadi and Achanakmar (Chhattisgarh), Kawal and Amrabad (both Telangana), Anshi-Dandeli (Karnataka), Sanjay-Dubri (MP), Mukundra (Rajasthan), Bor (Maharashtra), Palamu (Jharkhand) and Buxa (West Bengal) — recorded few or no tigers.
“It is encouraging that domestic species are also being monitored in the tiger estimation. One needs to look at the spatial overlaps between domestic dogs and livestock, and wild species. Dogs compete with wild canids which are even more endangered than the tiger,” said wildlife biologist Milind Pariwakam of Wildlife Conservation Trust, which studies disease prevalence in livestock around tiger reserves.
Abandoned animals constitute a significant part of India’s 200-million cattle population. The most abundant terrestrial carnivore, domestic dogs in free-ranging packs, are known to hunt livestock and wildlife.
A study in 2017 found that domestic dogs killed more livestock than those hunted by snow leopards and wolves combined in the upper Spiti landscape of Himachal Pradesh. Elsewhere, too, they compete with smaller carnivores.
“I have seen domestic dogs kill leopard cubs, snatch kills from wolves and chase away hyenas right inside the tiger reserve. Their presence causes stressed behaviour in prey species such as nilgai, affecting foraging patterns,” said wildlife biologist Dharmendra Khandal, who has been studying Rajasthan’s Ranthambhore landscape for over a decade.
In 2018, a sub-continent scale assessment of the impacts of domestic dogs noted attacks on 80 species, including 31 on the IUCN Red List. Published in the Zoological Society of London’s journal ‘Animal Conservation’, the study found that dogs unaccompanied by humans were behind two-thirds of the attacks.
Underlining that most attacks were by packs of dogs and nearly half of those led to the death of the prey, the study recommended a multi-pronged approach of responsible dog ownership, restriction in free-ranging behaviour, and strong population control measures, especially around sensitive conservation areas.
“It is ironic that the so-called ‘inviolate’ areas like tiger reserves were created for wildlife by shifting people out, but policymakers are wary of removing dogs from there. Even critical landscapes such as the breeding areas of Great Indian Bustards are not safe,” said Dr AT Vanak, Senior Fellow at Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, ATREE, Bangalore.
In 2017, a global study published in the journal ‘Biological Conservation’ said domestic dogs contributed to 11 vertebrate extinctions and pose a risk to at least 188 threatened species worldwide.
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