Free-ranging domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) as predators and prey in rural Zimbabwe: competition and disease threats to large wild carnivores

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Biological Conservation



Publication Date


First Page


Last Page



Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) arrived in Zimbabwe ca. 1000 years ago. Numbers of free-ranging dogs have reached unprecedented levels in communal lands (agro-pastoralist rural areas), and interact with large wild carnivores along boundaries with wildlife reserves as predators and prey. This study examined a population of 236 dogs in a 33-km2 section of Gokwe Communal Land (GCL) bordering the Sengwa Wildlife Research Area (SWRA) in north-western Zimbabwe in 1995–1996. Dogs were found up to 6 km within the SWRA, and were the most common carnivore on the GCL–SWRA boundary. Observations of 16 radio-collared dogs showed that they were inefficient predators. Only 20 kills were recorded amongst the remaining dog population, of which three were wild ungulates. Dogs were unsuccessful predators due to their small group size (mean 1.7) and body mass (mean 14.7 kg), and the abundance of alternative food. It is therefore unlikely that they compete with large carnivores for wild prey. However, leopards (Panthera pardus), lions (P. leo) and spotted hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta) preyed on dogs in GCL, removing ⩾6% of the dog population in 1993. Such predation provides ideal circumstances for disease transmission. Canid disease was prevalent in the study area; including rabies and probably distemper. The risk of infection is greatest during the dry season (May–October), when peaks in rates of disease, carnivore incursions into GCL, and predation on dogs coincided. The role of jackals (Canis adustus and Canis mesomelas) and spotted hyaena predation of dogs is discussed in relation to disease epidemics within wildlife reserves. With a dog population growth rate of 6.5% per annum, and the prevalence of canid diseases, the conservation threat posed by dogs is escalating on communal land–wildlife reserve boundaries in Zimbabwe. Measures to control dog numbers and improve vaccination coverage of dogs are discussed.