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Leopards in big cities help preventing the spread of rabies… by eating dogs

You wouldn‘t like to live in a city with leopards, would you? It seems like big cats can be intimidating, but scientists say that people actually benefit from living together with them in one city. You may not like the reasons though. An international team of scientists, led by the University of Queensland, found that leopards in Mumbai, India, are significantly reducing the risk of people catching rabies just by eating feral dogs.

Living close to big cats can be scary, but it does have its own benefits. Image credit: Chintu Rohith via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

Stray dogs make people sad. However, they are also very dangerous. They often bite people when they come too close to their food or for other reasons. They are not domesticated and should be treated as wild animals, especially when they impose risk to people. Feral dogs in Mumbai, as well as many other cities in the world, are known to contribute significantly to the spread of rabies. Scientists estimate that 35 leopards in Mumbai eat around 1500 dogs per year, preventing 1000 dog bites and at least 90 cases of rabies.

Rabies is a huge problem in India, killing 20 000 people per year. Scientists took a look at other studies, which showed that stray dogs make up for about 40 % of the diet of urban leopards. And so, it comes as no surprise that leopards in urban areas are actually beneficial to humans as they stop the spread of rabies. However, there is a huge conflict between leopards and people, because locals are mad about leopards hunting livestock. Living close together with big cats is intimidating, but scientists say that if there is a natural way of controlling the population of stray dogs, it is worth exploring.

Leopards and dogs usually live around the same area, which has some woods and protection from the elements. Leopards come out to hunt at night and dogs, especially sick ones, become an easy catch for them. Scientists say that more research needs to be done to evaluate benefits and dangers of big carnivores living in densely populated areas. Christopher O’Bryan, one of the authors of the study, said: “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”.

Leopards are losing battle against humans. They already lost 80 % of their historic distribution, due to conflict for pray, loss of habitat and hunting. Understanding that we are better off with them than without them could lead to better motivation for preservation.

 

Source: University of Queensland

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