Domestic dogs in rural communities around protected areas: Conservation problem or conflict solution?

Sepúlveda MA, Singer RS, Silva-Rodríguez E, Stowhas P, Pelican K

Although domestic dogs play many important roles in rural households, they can also be an important threat to the conservation of wild vertebrates due to predation, competition and transmission of infectious diseases. An increasing number of studies have addressed the impact of dogs on wildlife but have tended to ignore the motivations and attitudes of the humans who keep these dogs and how the function of dogs might influence dog-wildlife interactions. To determine whether the function of domestic dogs in rural communities influences their interactions with wildlife, we conducted surveys in rural areas surrounding protected lands in the Valdivian Temperate Forests of Chile. Sixty percent of farm animal owners reported the use of dogs as one of the primary means of protecting livestock from predators. The probability of dog-wild carnivore interactions was significantly associated with the raising of poultry. In contrast, dog-wild prey interactions were not associated with livestock presence but had a significant association with poor quality diet as observed in previous studies. Dog owners reported that they actively encouraged the dogs to chase off predators, accounting for 25-75% of the dog-wild carnivore interactions observed, depending on the predator species. Humans controlled the dog population by killing pups and unwanted individuals resulting in few additions to the dog population through breeding; the importation of predominantly male dogs from urban areas resulted in a sex ratios highly dominated by males. These results indicate that dog interactions with wildlife are related to the role of the dog in the household and are directly influenced by their owners. To avoid conflict with local communities in conservation areas, it is important to develop strategies for managing dogs that balance conservation needs with the roles that dogs play in these rural households.

PLoS ONE 9(1):e86152