Who let the dogs out?
Spiti Valley is witness to rapid socio-economic change. Free-ranging dogs appear to be unlikely beneficiaries of such change. All this is leading to a set of challenges, otherwise unknown to this remote valley.
Collective efforts by the Community
A predominantly agro-pastoralist community, people of Spiti rely heavily on rearing livestock. The past few decades have seen rapid socio-economic changes through the valley. A blossoming, resource-intensive tourism business coupled with the lack of effective garbage management measures have helped a group of unlikely beneficiaries: free-ranging dogs.
Availability of resources have helped their steady rise to a population ranging between 700-750 individuals, during a count in 2012. Free-ranging dogs also hunt livestock now. Such is the scale of damage in the last three years (2012-14) that, free-ranging dogs killed more sheep and goat, than snow leopards and wolves combined. Several villagers have stopped rearing sheep and goat for the fear of losing them to dogs.
In October 2013, led by an appeal to address the issue, a collaborative effort to address this challenge was initiated by local Panchayats that was supported by the Forest Department, the Animal Husbandry Department and locally active NGOs. Since then, we have collectively managed to sterlise and vaccinate over 275 dogs, across 6 villages. The local community supported by ensuring that each house operated at least one dog and ensured adequate post-operative care. The efforts to sterlise dogs continues.
In addition, we have also begun testings better garbage management measures in 5 villages. A sizable effort is also spent on raising awareness on this issue, within the local community.
- Journal Article2017Commensal in conflict: Livestock depredation patterns by free-ranging domestic dogs in the Upper Spiti Landscape, Himachal Pradesh, IndiaAmbio: doi:10.1007/s13280-016-0858-6Download
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In human-populated landscapes worldwide, domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) are the most abundant terrestrial carnivore. Although dogs have been used for the protection of livestock from wild carnivores, they have also been implicated as predators of livestock. We used a combination of methods (field surveys, interview surveys, and data from secondary sources) to examine the patterns and factors driving livestock depredation by free-ranging dogs, as well as economic losses to local communities in a Trans-Himalayan agro-pastoralist landscape in India. Our results show that livestock abundance was a better predictor of depredation in the villages than local dog abundance. Dogs mainly killed small-bodied livestock and sheep were the most selected prey. Dogs were responsible for the majority of livestock losses, with losses being comparable to that by snow leopards. This high level of conflict may disrupt community benefits from conservation programs and potentially undermine the conservation efforts in the region through a range of cascading effects.
- Journal Article2016Response of the red fox to expansion of human habitation in the Trans-Himalayan mountainsEuropean Journal of Wildlife Research, 62: 131-136, DOI 10.1007/s10344-015-0967-8Download
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Habitat modification through rural and urban expansions negatively impacts most wildlife species. However, anthropogenic food sources in habitations can benefit certain species. The red fox Vulpes vulpes can exploit anthropogenic food, but human subsidies sometimes also sustain populations of its potential competitor, the free-ranging dog Canis familiaris. As human habitations expand, populations of free-ranging dog are increasing in many areas, with unknown effects on wild commensal species such as the red fox. We examined occurrence and diet of red fox along a gradient of village size in a rural mountainous landscape of the Indian Trans-Himalaya. Diet analyses suggest substantial use of anthropogenic food (livestock and garbage) by red fox. Contribution of livestock and garbage to diet of red fox declined and increased, respectively, with increasing village size. Red fox occurrence did not show a clear relationship with village size. Red fox occurrence showed weak positive relationships with density of free-ranging dog and garbage availability, respectively, while density of free-ranging dog showed strong positive relationships with village size and garbage availability, respectively. We highlight the potential conservation concern arising from the strong positive association between density of free-ranging dog and village size.