When dogs become the biggest predators of livestock

Dog Photo Kesang Chunit

Dogs were responsible for 64% of livestock deaths in the Trans-Himalayan region, much more than snow leopards. – Photo: Kesang Chunit

Dogs might be man’s best friends but they also turn out to be livestock’s biggest predators, at least in the Trans Himalayas. In the Upper Spiti landscape of the Trans-Himalayan region of India, of the 340 animals killed by predators in 2013 across 25 villages, free-ranging dogs (which move about freely in the landscape) were responsible for nearly 64% of livestock deaths, much more than snow leopards (that killed about 29%).

Even the livestock deaths attributed to wolves might indeed be attributed to dogs as there are very few wolves in the area.

While dogs predominantly killed small-bodied livestock (sheep and goats) and a few medium-sized animals such as donkeys, snow leopards killed larger animals such as horses and yaks. Even from the financial point of view, dogs caused more economic loss per year to people than snow leopards.

Sheep and goats did not display the same kind of anti-predator response towards dogs as they would do to wild predatory animals.The results of a study based on an interview survey were published in the journal Ambio. The study was jointly carried out by Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bengaluru, and Nature Conservation Foundation.

Livestock size

Chandrima Home from ATREE and the first author of the paper wanted to test if livestock depredation was due to abundance of dogs in a place or if it was livestock population that determined predation. “We found dogs responded strongly to livestock abundance and support the prey abundance hypothesis,” says Ms. Home.

The main reason why dogs turned out to be bigger predators than snow leopard could partly be explained by the naivety exhibited by livestock and familiarity of the predators (dogs). As a result, the sheep and goats did not display the same kind of anti-predator response towards dogs as they would do to wild predatory animals. That explains why sheep and goats accounted for 80% of the kills by dogs.

“The small-bodied livestock numbers are reducing and the large-bodied livestock is showing an increasing trend,” she says. With continued predation of livestock, there has also been a decline in the population of sheep and goat during the last five years. One village has stopped keeping small-bodied livestock since 2013 due to increased frequency of depredation by dogs. There have also been instances when dogs have killed calves of larger-bodies animals. Such attacks may increase in future as the number of sheep and goats keep reducing.

According to the paper, compensation is paid only for livestock killed by wild animals and not by dogs.

Of the 25 villages studied, two villages generated a huge volume of daily organic waste leading to an increase in the number of dogs. Totally, the researchers identified about 570 dogs in the 25 villages. “But only a subset of dogs predate on livestock and these dogs move from one village to another,” Ms. Home clarifies.

According to a 2017 paper in the journal Biological Conservation, domestic dogs have contributed to 11 vertebrate extinctions and are a known or potential threat to at least 188 threatened species worldwide.

Published in The Hindu on May 13, 2017