Community perceptions of free-roaming dogs and management practices in villages at the periphery of a protected area in Bhutan.
In Bhutan, free-roaming dogs pose health hazards to human, livestock, and wildlife. Understanding the perceptions and practices of local communities regarding free-roaming dogs is important to mitigate negative impacts. A community-based study was conducted in the buffer zone of Strict Nature Reserve, western Bhutan. The study was conducted in February-October 2018 using a household questionnaire survey, 'free-listing' of dog diseases, group discussions and key-informant interviews. A total of 140 households from Katsho and Esue geogs (sub-districts) were interviewed. People classify dogs under three categories: 'Gokhi'/pet dog, 'Changkhi'/stray dog, and 'Shakhi'/feral dog. A higher proportion of rural people owned pet dogs, which were considered important to guard crops and livestock from wildlife and protect households' properties. Owning a dog also contributed significantly to the non-material well-being of the respondents, especially in the rural villages. In contrast to the perceived positive impacts of the pet dogs, 81% of the respondents considered stray and feral dogs a problem in the community. The threats were attacks/bites by free-roaming dogs to humans, livestock and also wildlife. Rabies was the most frequently (69.7%) known dog diseases with the highest rank (1.46) in the list, followed by scabies (49.5%, rank 1.52). The majority (56%) of the respondents indicated that stray and feral dogs originate from abandoned pet dogs. This study calls for a multi-sectorial/One Health approach to mitigate the threats posed by free-roaming dogs and more detailed ecological and epidemiological studies are required to control their impacts.