As the global population of free-ranging domestic dogs grows, there is increasing concern about impacts on human health and wildlife conservation. Effective management of dog populations requires reliable information on their diet, feeding behavior, and social ecology. Free-ranging dogs are reliant on humans, but anthropogenic food subsidies, particularly human faeces (i.e., coprophagy) have not previously been fully quantified. In this study we assess the contributions of different food types to the diet, and their influences on the social behaviour of free-ranging dogs in communal lands of rural Zimbabwe, with a focus on coprophagy. Free-ranging dog diets, body condition, and sociology were studied amongst 72 dogs over 18 months using scat analysis and direct observations. Human faeces constituted the fourth most common item in scats (56% occurrence) and contributed 21% by mass to the observed diet. Human faeces represented a valuable resource because relative to other food items it was consistently available, and of higher nutritional value than ‘sadza’ (maize porridge, the human staple and primary human-derived food), yielding 18.7% crude protein and 18.7 KJ/kg gross energy, compared to 8.3% and 18.5 KJ/kg for sadza, respectively. Human faeces had protein and energy values equivalent to mammal remains, another important food item. Dog condition was generally good, with 64% of adult females and 74% of adult males in the highest two body condition scores (on a five point scale), suggesting a plentiful and high quality food supply. Dogs largely fed alone, perhaps as a consequence of the small, inert, and spatially dispersed items that comprise their diet, and its abundance. We discuss the relationships between sanitation, human development, the supply of human faeces, female dog fertility, and population control.
Butler, James R. A.; Brown, Wendy Y.; and du Toit, Johan T., "Anthropogenic Food Subsidy to a Commensal Carnivore: The Value and Supply of Human Faeces in the Diet of Free-Ranging Dogs" (2018). Wildland Resources Faculty Publications. Paper 2681.