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Impact of free ranging dogs on wildlife in Italy


The diffuse presence of free ranging dogs (non-controlled, stray, and feral) in Italy is considered a severe conservation threat because of the potential impact on the wolf and on other wildlife species. In particular, it is generally believed that non-controlled owned dogs are rapidly increasing their number, representing a major part of the problem. The present legal framework does not allow destruction of dogs and cats, and the management of these pet species is based on mandatory marking, and on capture of free ranging animals for perpetual captivation in public kennels. The present research was aimed to: l) collect and analyze available information on the impact of free ranging dogs on the wolf and on wildlife; 2) census owned dogs in rural areas of Italy (including urban centers with less than 30,000 inhabitants); 3) estimate the proportion of owned dogs that are free to range; 4) assess the public perception of problems posed by free ranging dogs; 5) assess the public attitude toward management alternatives; and 6) define management guidelines. Free ranging dogs resulted to prey upon all ungulate species and colonial ground-nesting birds. Dogs are the main limiting factor in translocation projects involving roe and red-deer, and represent a key obstacle to the recolonization of central and southern Italy by these species. Impact on the wolf is also discussed. Dogs were censused through direct interviews to 2,903 Italian families, randomly selected by the electoral lists. The sample was homogeneously distributed in the country, in order to test for differences among areas (n=4 sub-regions: northeast, northwest, center, south and islands). The total number of dogs is estimated at 6,099,011 ± 307,234. Of these, 19.7% (n = 1,209,973 ± 151,280) are free to range at least part of their time. Despite the lack of reliable data on the past dog numbers, we estimated an average 5%/ year increase of the total population of dogs. The high increase rate is explained by the limited number of sterilized females, and the consequent high percentage of females reproducing every year. Number of dogs is negatively correlated to the size of urban areas, and increases from north to south. Control by owners follows opposite patterns. Despite the increasing number of non-controlled dogs, Italians have a limited perception of the social, sanitary, and conservation risks caused by dogs: 51.1% of Italians consider that dogs do not represent a problem at all, and only 3.8% of the population considers the destruction of dogs an acceptable alternative to perpetual captivity.

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