Predoctoral Fellow 2012-2013, Institute for Environmental Science and Policy
Anna’s project focuses on domestic dog ecology in villages west of Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Free-roaming domestic dog research has generally focused on disease ecology and efforts to control zoonotic diseases such as rabies. Few aim to understand free-roaming domestic dog “ecology”. What regulates their population sizes? How do disease control interventions, such as vaccination programs, alter demography, health, and ownership practices? Anna’s research will investigate factors regulating the free-roaming domestic dog population in rural villages west of Serengeti National Park and determine the impact of vaccination campaigns on dog abundance, health, welfare and population growth. This population of domestic dogs is a reservoir for rabies and distemper and poses concerns for both public health and conservation of wild carnivores in the Serengeti. Annual dog vaccinations conducted since 2003 may be affecting dog population growth and changing the mechanisms which regulate it. To determine the effect of vaccination on domestic dog population dynamics Anna will compare demography, welfare and dog ownership practices in two villages receiving annual dog vaccinations and two villages without annual vaccinations. She will characterize free-roaming domestic dog ecology by marking and assessing individual dogs and conducting household questionnaire surveys in a four year longitudinal study to determine: (a) dog demography, including estimating annual survival, fecundity and population growth, (b) dog welfare and health using endocrine measures and body condition score, and (c) dog ownership practices, including feeding, vaccination and population control practices. This innovative approach of following individual dogs in addition to surveying owners will provide valuable information about the ecology of free-roaming domestic dogs to ultimately determine what factors regulate the population.
While domestic dogs are a commonly studied organism, free-roaming domestic dogs, which depend on people for food but roam freely amongst livestock and wildlife, live within a complex and dynamic system. As a result, unlike typical “pet” dogs, whose population size is strictly controlled by humans, free-roaming dog population growth may be regulated by humans, disease, and wildlife predation. The Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania poses a unique opportunity to study these relationships due to the interconnectedness of wildlife, humans, and domestic animals. Understanding how these factors affect dog population ecology in the context of the Serengeti ecosystem will provide vital information to continue dog rabies vaccination programs in Tanzania and in other areas where free-roaming domestic dogs pose a public health and conservation concern.
Anna’s research is significant in that it provides critical data for the Serengeti Health Initiative (SHI), Alliance for Rabies Control, and Tanzanian officials, whose mission is the eradication of rabies in Tanzania. Understanding the population dynamics of these dogs will reveal the number of dogs to target for vaccination to achieve the recommended coverage to control rabies outbreaks. Mitigating rabies risk and exposure with dog vaccination campaigns would eliminate human death due to rabies and the severe financial burden of post exposure treatment, wound treatment, and livestock loss, all of which are major financial hardships on communities struggling with poverty. Anna’s research incorporates community capacity building, using the infrastructure of the SHI to hire and train local Tanzanians as field assistants and data collectors. She will visit village schools to teach children about rabies risk and importance of wound washing. She will make presentations to villagers about dog nutrition and ownership practices that promote dog health and welfare. Data gathered will serve as a basis for greater community involvement in shaping rabies education programs and planning/execution of the rabies vaccination programs.
Anna’s research has considerable implications for wildlife conservation in Serengeti National Park and other areas because managing dog populations may decrease devastating disease outbreaks in wildlife populations. This has economic ramifications because the wildlife of Serengeti National Park is an integral part of the tourism industry in Tanzania. Finally, as these communities continue to grow and develop economically, these data will provide a benchmark for free-roaming domestic dog ecology and how it changes with human development.
Anna’s research advisor is Dr. Joel Brown.