Interactions between domestic and wild carnivores and the potential for pathogen transmission

The interface between wild and domestic carnivores is an understudied, yet critically important area for animal conservation, due to carnivore intraguild competition and multihost disease dynamics.  However, carnivore intraguild interactions are notoriously hard to quantify.

A novel study recently published in the journal Animal Conservation by Meggan Craft, Eve Miguel, Sarah Cleaveland, Andrew Ferdinands, Craig Packer and myself focuses on new methods to infer interaction risks between domestic and wild animals, specifically at the peridomestic interface around a well known protected area, the Serengeti Ecosystem. We found that social surveys were a useful tool for obtaining data on carnivore interactions as well as providing a direction for future targeted and in-depth research to reduce interspecific conflict.

Showing children photos of wild carnivores that might be found in their area after a household social interview to investigate domestic and wild carnivore interactions © Andrew Ferdinands.
Showing children photos of wild carnivores that might be found in their area after a household social interview to investigate domestic and wild carnivore interactions © Andrew Ferdinands.

We asked 512 villagers residing around a conservation area in the Serengeti Ecosystem, Tanzania, to report on the presence of wild carnivores in their village, the number of domestic dogs and cats  in their household and interactions between domestic and wild carnivores.

Study area, including locations of protected areas and surveyed households.
Study area, including locations of protected areas and surveyed households.

Wild carnivores are abundant near households surrounding the Serengeti National Park, villagers have many free-ranging domestic dogs (and would like to have more) and direct and indirect contacts between wild and domestic carnivores are common. Large carnivores, such as spotted hyenas and leopards, often killed or wounded domestic dogs. Small carnivores, such as mongoose, bat-eared fox, serval and wildcat, are locally abundant and frequently interact with domestic dogs.

Semi-quantitative assessment of interactions between domestic dogs and wild carnivores in agropastoralist (West) and pastoralist communities (East). See full article for species code.
Semi-quantitative assessment of interactions between domestic dogs and wild carnivores in agropastoralist (West) and pastoralist communities (East). See full article for species code.

 

We demonstrate that interspecific carnivore behavior, human culture and local and regional geography play a complex role in domestic and wild carnivore interaction risk around conservation areas. Improving the health and husbandry of domestic animals and reducing the unintentional feeding of wild carnivores could reduce dog–wildlife interactions and the potential for pathogen transmission at the domestic–wild animal interface.

Domestic dog injured by a honey badger at household premises in a village around Serengeti National Park © Andrew Ferdinands
Domestic dog injured by a honey badger at household premises in a village around Serengeti National Park © Andrew Ferdinands

These results have broad interest and international relevance, as domestic dogs are the world’s most ubiquitous carnivore, human and domestic animal populations are expected to increase, and buffer zones between domestic and wild animals are expected to decrease.

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