Study reveals impact of domestic animals on native fauna
Written by Daniela Contreras
Wednesday, 18 November 2015 16:43
Dr. Maximiliano Sepulveda, researcher at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and the Center for Applied Ecology and Sustainability showed the importance of an adequate pet management program – particularly dogs – to avoid the transmission to native fauna of diseases such as distemper.
The research was conducted in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve, a protected area of the Los Rios Region which is home to several endangered species such as the Darwin Fox, the river otter, the quique, among others.
One of the permanent concerns of the various protected areas of the country is the damage caused by domestic dogs to the native fauna given that they are let loose in these natural environments. According to various reports and studies, the uncontrolled presence of domestic dogs affects pudus, huemules, foxes, pumas, huillines and other native wildlife species throughout the country, not only through attacks that can kill them, but also through the transmission of various infectious diseases such as distemper.
Dr. Maximiliano Sepúlveda placed collars with GPS technology on a group of dogs for a period of one year in order to study their behavior within the Valdivian Coastal Reserve, a private protected area managed by The Nature Conservancy and supported by BHP Billiton. "The idea was to study their movements, distances that they travel within the boundaries of the native forest, and other environments that are the habitat of native wildlife. We investigated the times that they move in order to understand how they travel through these environments," he said.
As part of the conclusions of the study the researcher established that dogs have a direct contact with another exotic species, minks. The latter, as they move both on land and water, can transfer distemper to the huillin, a native species of the river otter, which could be severely affected by the disease. "Another important finding is that dogs don't move easily through the rainforest, since it has an extremely dense vegetation. Instead, they use different paths and roads in the Reserve. Such paths and roads were formerly used by forestry operations and are currently abandoned”, Sepulveda said.
"To reduce the risk of distemper among the local wildlife, one option was to directly vaccinate " those species at risk, for example, the Darwin Fox, but we decided to carry out such vaccination on a massive scale in rural dogs that live in the areas next to the Valdivian Costal Reserve and the Alerce Costero National Park. It is dogs that are the source of the problem, but they are also the most feasible option than to capture and vaccinate foxes or other native fauna", Sepulveda said.
In relation to minimizing the presence of dogs within the protected area, one of the options that The Nature Conservancy will begin to work on is closing abandoned roads through natural restoration with native vegetation, which will decrease the movement of dogs in the native forest.
Alfredo Almonacid, Manager of the VCR, said that “scientific research on issues such as this one is of utmost importance to TNC. Its results permit us to improve our knowledge of the relationships and interactions between human activities and wildlife and, at the same time, it helps us to have reliable information that will permit us to implement effective control measures, for example the deactivation of abandoned tracks and roads, but still permitting the movement of dogs in the area. At the same time, we must also reaffirm the importance of responsible pet ownership so that their interactions with native wildlife have the lowest possible impact on the fauna, mainly where the most endangered species are concerned".
Almonacid said that TNC valued the work carried out recently in conjunction with the community because "using these finding we can build better contents for environmental education and health programs for pets by mutual agreement with our neighbors".