Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Mind your tail

See them in action
About 20 of the estimated 35,000 feral dogs in Moscow can navigate the subway system. They know which trains to get on and which stops to get off to commute from the center of Moscow where they hunt for their meals to their industrial-complex homes in the suburbs. (The factories were in the cities under communist rules then moved out when communism fell, many dogs moving outward with them.) They even have their own website, though they still need human help to navigate the web.)

They have devised techniques to acquire food from humans such as the "bark and snatch" and "cuteness sells" The first involves a loud bark behind a human holding a doggie-gourmet shawarma from a vendor. Startled, the human drops it and the dog snatches it. In the second, the pack sends out the smallest, cutest member to plead for food which he or she will bring back to share. Some dogs position themselves along well-traveled pedestrian ways knowing food will be tossed without having to beg.

The feral dog population is divided into four distinct groups:

Beggars - the most intelligent. The alpha males will be the cleverest rather than the strongest. They're the most at ease around humans, but see them as merely meal tickets.

Guard dogs - see the guards at the many fenced sites around Moscow as their leaders. Though semi-feral, they receive food from the guards and defend the territory as their own.

Foragers - are human shy. They roam Moscow scavenging for food.

Wild dogs - are the most wolflike. They live nocturnal lives in the wooded areas beyond the outskirts of the city, wary of humans but have been known to attack.

So, what's it like for a freshly dumped dog who must find a pack if he's to up his survival chances? How do the groups get along? Unlike wolf packs, the pack leaders of the beggar dogs interact with each other. Food is plentiful in the cities so there's no need to compete. (During the communist era when food was scarce, pack wars might last for months.) What do the leaders discuss with each other?

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