Established as one of man’s best friends, dogs can seemingly be found in almost every other household you visit. But while humans may enjoy dogs’ company, research published in the Journal of Environmental Management underscores a more sinister side to the story: the fact that free-ranging and feral dogs impose a serious threat to various forms of wildlife.
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New research on this highly-debated topic finds that domestic dogs threaten more than 200 species worldwide; among those, many are recognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as vulnerable to extinction. Citing the BBC, the organization’s Red List describes 30 of those 200 species as critically endangered, 71 as endangered, and 87 as vulnerable; these range in variety from amphibians, to birds, to mammals, to reptiles.
To be clear, household dogs aren’t the problem; it’s those that can roam the wilderness freely without limitation. Free-ranging dogs, such as those that aren’t fenced or leashed, tend to harass and harm certain wild animals in their free time. Feral dogs, which have no present owner, are considered guilty of the same malicious behavior.
Said malicious behavior purportedly includes predation, competition for prey, disturbing and harassing wildlife, and transmitting diseases, among other things. To make matters worse, free-ranging and feral dogs may interbreed with wolves, resulting in a loss of wolf gene purity.
"Conservationists in Chile and elsewhere see an urgency in controlling the impact of free-ranging dogs on wildlife," the researchers wrote.
"Predation and harassment by dogs have been documented for the majority of larger terrestrial mammals that inhabit Chile, including the three species of canids (mammals from the dog family) and three species of deer," study co-author Eduardo Silva-Rodriguez explained to the BBC.
It’s believed that there are more than one billion domestic dogs around the globe, and pet owners appear to share vastly different views when it comes to their dogs. Specifically, most dog owners that had been educated about the circumstances surrounding free-ranging dogs and the impact on the environment displayed little or no concern about the matter.
"It's quite a matter of serious concern," added Piero Genovesi, an invasive species specialist from the IUCN. "As the human population rises, so will the number of dogs, and this problem could get worse."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the United States isn’t the primary suspect concerning impacted regions. A similar study published a year earlier in the journal Biological Conservation found that hotspots for free-ranging dog activities included parts of Asia, South and Central America, and the Caribbean. Notably, these regions are chock-full of dense forests known to provide habitats for unique forms of wildlife.
As it would seem, there’s a substantial problem afoot, but formulating a solution to such a complex issue has proven to be anything but simple. To make matters worse, the problem is often ignored in place of more pressing issues; consequently, wildlife continues to pay the price as time is wasted.
With the issue receiving a fresh bit of attention as of late, it should be interesting to see if conservationists will investigate the problem more fully and develop a means of resolving it. Then again, only time will tell…