They Are More than Just Pets, they Help Reduce Human Wildlife Conflict

Risking their lives to be livestock protectors of the pastoralist communities in Kenya.

MEIBAE CONSERVANCY, SAMBURU COUNTY, KENYAFrom afar, we hear a dog barking, alerting the owners of the’ bomas’ of the new comers. We approach with caution, trying to locate the owner of the homestead. The dog continues barking; going back and forth, with intentions of attacking but little did the dog know that we were here to spend some quality time. 

Dogs have played a critical role in the lifestyle of most pastoralist communities in Africa, Europe and North America. Helping shepherds protect their goats and sheep from predators such as spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), leopards (Panthera pardus) and lions (Panthera leo)

Meibae conservancy is home to the Samburu, a pastoralist community closely related to the Maasai. Meibae is a Samburu word meaning ‘liked’. The community conservancy is a critical wildlife corridor and a prime habitat for the endangered Grevy’s zebra. Meibae was registered in 2006; and is supported and advised by the Northern Rangelands Trust, a local organization that works with 33 community conservancies to boost security, sustainable development and wildlife conservation. 

Meibae’s core conservation area is 115,500 hectares, with a population of 12,500 people, who are mainly pastoralists. They are blessed with the following wildlife species; Grevy’s zebras, elephants, gazelles, impalas, gerenuks, cheetahs, leopards, African wild dogs, Greater Kudu, elands, ostriches, lions and a number of birds. 

Every homestead we visited had more than one dog, whose main role was to protect livestock. Majority of dogs are owned and depend on humans for their basic needs. Although, due to the unrestricted ranging in the area, many of them reproduce uncontrollably without restrictions. These dogs are however often unvaccinated and may potentially interact with wildlife at multiple levels, including as reservoirs and vectors for pathogens, predators, agents of disturbance and competitors.

Dogs have been proven to be partly responsible of transmitting canine distemper virus, which killed 30 % of the lion population in the Serengeti National Park in less than one year in 1994. Furthermore, dogs are also well linked to the transmission of rabies to the African Wild Dog, which led to the local extinction of the African Wild dog (Lycaon pictus) in Maasai Mara in 1989, but I am glad to mention that they have now been spotted in Maasai Mara.

Additionally, dogs are mentioned as potential links to the transmission of the mite Sarcoptes scabiei that causes sarcoptic mange. Sarcoptic mange was regarded as one of the main infectious causes of mortality in the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) population but has also been affecting the Thomson’s gazelles (Eudorcas thomsonii), wildebeests (Connochaetes taurinus) and livestock.

During our visit we were mainly inoculating the dogs with a rabies vaccine as a one of the measures to minimize the risks of dog-wildlife interactions; however, a multipronged approach is fundamental. A combination of vaccination, lethal control and restriction of free-ranging behavior may be effective in lowering the potential deleterious effects of dogs to wildlife.

This is now the second vaccination campaign in Meibae, organized by Action for Cheetahs (ACK) and supported by African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW). A total of 873 animals, 659 dogs, 202 cats, 12 donkeys, and a camel were vaccinated.

Dogs will always be a key component to minimizing human wildlife conflict, but they have to be well taken care of by their owners to minimize transfer of disease to wildlife.

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