How does red fox respond to increasing village size in the Trans-Himalaya?
Being a commensal to humans, red fox depend on human habitations for food, especially during winter. Does it benefit? What challenges does it face?
Habitat modification through rural and urban expansions negatively impacts most wildlife species. However, anthropogenic food sources in habitations can benefit certain species. The red fox Vulpes vulpes can exploit anthropogenic food, but human subsidies sometimes also sustain populations of its potential competitor, the free-ranging dog Canis familiaris. As human habitations expand, populations of free-ranging dog are increasing in many areas, with unknown effects on wild commensal species such as the red fox. We examined occurrence and diet of red fox along a gradient of village size in a rural mountainous landscape of the Indian Trans-Himalaya. Diet analyses suggest substantial use of anthropogenic food (livestock and garbage) by red fox. Contribution of livestock and garbage to diet of red fox declined and increased, respectively, with increasing village size. Red fox occurrence did not show a clear relationship with village size. Red fox occurrence showed weak positive relationships with density of free-ranging dog and garbage availability, respectively, while density of free-ranging dog showed strong positive relationships with village size and garbage availability, respectively. We highlight the potential conservation concern arising from the strong positive association between density of free-ranging dog and village size.
Local conservation policy intervention
This project was one of the reasons to develop and implement two long-term ongoing conservation programs, free-ranging dog sterilization and garbage management, in Spiti, Himachal Pradesh.