Mark Derr has a very interesting post up on Psychology Today.
He discussed the efficacy of using dogs to alert the presence of man-eating tigers in the Sundarbans, and he wonders if similar dogs might be useful for alerting to the presence of lions in suburban Nairobi.
People have long used dogs as alarm systems. It may have been one of their original functions around human camps. Dogs would have alerted our ancestors to the Homotherium or the short-faced bear stalking near the camp, and thus they would have given humans a chance to chase off the big predator.
And there are plenty of modern-day examples:
In Siberia, a trapper or hunter would rely upon his laika to feed him and to help procure some furs. However, the dog would also have use in alerting to the presence of brown bears, which would always be raiding his caches.
Helen Thayer, the first woman to walk and ski to the Magnetic North Pole, was told that she needed a dog to protect her from polar bears. She procured a dog of mixedqimmiq and Newfoundland blood named Charlie. Charlie alerted her to the bears on several occasions, and he even drove off a bear that charged her.
And we have the Masai people of Kenya and Tanzania who keep little pariah-type dogs with their cattle. They prefer golden red dogs, but the dogs are of no distinct breed. Just regular Africanis. The dogs alert to the presence of lions, and the Masai are able to run the predators off. Of course, the Masai occasionally do kill lions. Hunting lions is a rite of passage for young warriors in this culture.
However, the Masai usually have no problems with lions. The big cats usually defer to the Masai, and they usually don’t consider the Masai prey.
Now, it might be possible that a barking dog might be the best way to keep suburban lions under control.
However, there might be cases in which having dogs around might not be the best thing if one wants to keep the predators away.
Leopards and Amur tigers consider dogs a rare delicacy. Amur tigers limit dhole and wolf populations in their range, and it is well-known that Amur tigers will take dogs that are walking beside armed men. Leopards, which are well-known for hunting jackals, were infamous for taking the naive Western dogs belonging to European settlers in southern Africa. Most European dogs had spent their lives chasing cats, and when they got to Africa and caught wind of a leopard, they decided to give chase. If the dog happened to be on its own, it stood very little chance against leopard.
So maybe we can use the Stone Age technology of a predator-alert dog to solve twenty-first century conflicts with large predators.
It may require some recalibrations, but maybe we can develop a system that allows suburbanites in Nairobi to live near lions in much the same way the Masai do.
We have may even devise as hazing system for lions that uses dogs. In parts of western North America, Karelian bear dogs are used to haze grizzly bears that have become to accustomed to approaching people and homes. The dogs bark at the bears while humans shoot them with bean bags and rubber bullets. The bears learn to associate barking dog with the pain from the bean bags and rubber bullets, and they soon learn to avoid human habitation.
We can learn to live with large predators. We just have to find ways to make sure that large predators know that we’re not a suitable prey source.
And maybe dogs can help us with that.