Leopards Eat Feral Dogs, Limiting Rabies

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I heard a story from a reliable source, who in turn heard it from a fairly reliable source. So believe it or not:

One day a resident of a Nairobi, Kenya — a fairly well off person who liked to collect things — called the police to report that his leopard had gotten out.

So, the police called around and got some leopard traps. Not hard in a place like Nairobi.

They put a dozen, maybe two dozen, traps around the area, in town.

That night and the next, they caught a half dozen or so leopards. None of them were the missing animal. All the caught leopards were wild.

(How can you tell a wild vs. a tame leopard caught in a leopard trap? Do you really have to ask that question.?)

Meanwhile, there are the dogs. Dogs that are feral in that region of Africa, in any of the savanna regions of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, or for that matter the Eastern Congo, have a high probability of having rabies. Most of my personal encounters with rabies were in that region (not counting the Great Rabid Raccoon Rage of New England a few years back, an interesting story of its own).

In India, there is exactly the same problem. Lots of feral dogs, rabies abound, but there are also a lot of leopards.

But leopards find feral dogs easy prey.

A study has found the world’s densest population of leopards may be saving human lives by feeding on feral dogs.

The international study, led by University of Queensland researchers, shows that leopards may reduce bites and subsequent rabies risk for people by consuming feral dogs in Mumbai, India.

School of Earth and Environmental Sciences PhD students and authors Christopher O’Bryan and Alexander Braczkowski found that a small population of 35 leopards in Mumbai may consume about 1500 dogs per year, preventing around 1000 bite incidents, and 90 potential rabies cases.

“Stray dogs are the leading cause of rabies deaths in India, killing 20,000 people per year, so if there’s a natural predator in the landscape that can reduce that risk, it’s worth investigating,” Mr Braczkowski said.

The researchers compiled previous studies and found the average leopard diet in Mumbai contained 40 per cent stray dog.

“These results highlight the need for more research on the impacts of predators on harmful pest species, such as feral dogs,” Mr Braczkowski said.

“Leopards are frequently persecuted throughout the region with conflict often arising over livestock, but we show these unique predators can also be beneficial to human societies,” Mr O’Bryan said.

“Our paper discusses the role of leopards at reducing the density of stray dogs around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, a protected area located in the middle of the sixth most populated city in the world.”

The researchers stress the importance of evaluating both the negatives and the positives of large carnivores in human-dominated areas.

“While it’s very important that we evaluate the benefits of these leopards and similar large carnivores, it’s equally important to assess the costs of these species to local communities, such as attacks on people,” Mr O’Bryan said.

“The real challenge is navigating the costs with the benefits, and identifying those cases of net-benefit.”

Leopards have lost nearly 80 per cent of their global historic distribution, and are under threat from conflict with people, competition for prey, and habitat loss, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Research fellow for the Global Change Institute Dr Hawthorne Beyer was also a senior author of the article.

The article Leopards provide public health benefits in Mumbai, India appears in the March 2018 edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment journal (DOI: 10.1002/fee.1776).

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8 thoughts on “Leopards Eat Feral Dogs, Limiting Rabies

  1. ” … its worth investigating “.
    Not sure about that.
    I mean, just cuz its possible to investigate, as it seems to have been, dosnt mean its particularly a good use of scientific resources.
    Sure, sit around a table and discuss natural predators as a potential remediative mechanism. Bacteria causing disease more than likely. And vultures. And leopards. And probably dogs themselves, fighting.
    But jeez, what a fucking obscure tangent to gather data on in the face of 1. Extremly high chance of wild leopard control for wild dogs not being rolled out in the suburbs of the world, for reasons as obvious as telling a wild from a feral leopard in a trap! And 2. The high likelyhood of there being much more realistic alternative methods of wild dog control. Very Very high actually.

    Couldnt these mob do something slightly more useful with their education?
    Its waaaay better than researching less detectable land mine technology, or arsehole nukes, though.
    Its a veeery slightly positive increase in knowledge.

    I could be off the mark here and its utterly commendable and imperative research.
    It sure superficially dosnt seem like it.

    1. A distant memory.
      At about aged 10 or so, I asked my father something like ” How come these scientists are always looking at little unimportant fruitflies?
      And he laughed and explained a bit about agriculture.
      So again, i could be well off the mark.
      I just see well done scientific research as a really powerful tool.
      And those that have the tools sometimes squander them.
      Maybe theres a surfeit of researchers and not enough subjects.

  2. Li D,

    One thing about research scientists is that as a population they do gravitate to what is funded one way or another but basically they do research on subjects in which they are interested and even when they are chasing funding, they will try to shift their research so that they can continue research on the topics they love to investigate.

    They are kind of like musicians and other artists in that.

  3. Thanks for reply to my gripe Tyvor Winn.
    I appreciate that passion for a subject or field is an important driver. ( hopefully not a driver that results in bias! )
    The world is a better place because of people like Charlie Veron and his passion for coral, for example.
    There just seems to be a sort of futility about this paper.
    Termites are a massive problem for dwellings and some forms of agriculture.
    Gorrillas eat termites.
    Soooo lets do some research on how gorrillas might alleviate that issue!
    Whats a bit odd is that i wouldnt give a shit about someone studying leopards. Or dogs.
    Or rabies. All valid topics.
    Its the intersection of interest that dosnt seem valid, or at least reasonable.

    1. I reckon i should clarify that species interaction is of paramount import to study as a subject. Especially in this time of massive upheaval and decimation.
      I wonder, did any entomologist feel to approach some Mao government officials suggesting that rooting all the birds might have undesirable effects and perhaps maybe do some field trials first.
      Vaguely remember some research into an important relationship between migrating fish and trees and some variety of nitrogen and one needs to be carefull when mucking about with trees or fish or things will go pearshaped.
      Perhaps if leopards went extinct a tipping point in rabies would be breached and things would get very much worse.
      Christ it seems an obsure useless tangent to consider at first glance.

  4. Re Li D: “Christ it seems an obs[c]ure useless tangent to consider at first glance.”

    That’s the thing. It is often only possible to say something is useless after it has been studied and often only possible to get on the right track after following a number of wrong tracks.

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