When I was running wild and free…wait…that sounds so glamorous. Let me rephrase that. When I lived rough on the streets of Mexico City, in fear for my life, on a daily basis and desperate for my next meal, I would sometimes hunt for anything I could catch. I had no idea whether some of the things I caught were important, or even, endangered species. I’m just a dog and I was doing my best to survive. Little did I know that I was part of a much bigger problem that is dangerous to both pets and wildlife and that there is even a name for that. It is called pet/wildlife conflict.
That’s quite a fancy name, and it covers a number of different issues that occur when domestic companion animals, such as cats and dogs share the environment with wildlife. The thing is that humans love their pets tons and tons. Mine certainly do. So, they want to protect them from harm and can often be worried about wild animals hurting their four-legged family members and that is important because it does happen. But the best pet owners of all are the ones who want to protect wildlife too, and I’m here to tell you how to do both things, because like any good boy, all I want is world peace. In this article I’m going to tell you all the things humans can do to keep wildlife safe from your cats and dogs, and also how to protect your pets if they should encounter wildlife.
You may be surprised to know quite how dangerous free ranging dogs and cats are to wildlife. Did you know that they have already recorded that dogs are responsible for the extinction of at least one dozen bird and animal species? Research in places like Chile are showing that dogs are putting even more species in danger by hunting them in packs. Yikes! I’m a proud Mexican dog, but it doesn’t make me proud to say that there are an estimated twelve million dogs that live on the streets here. We didn’t get there on our own humans. I hate to point my paws, but you did that.
In Mexico there are records of dogs harming endangered and protected species of wildlife such as flamingos and even sea turtles. Can you imagine a beautiful and rare sea turtle, coming ashore to lay her eggs in peace, only to be attacked by some hungry dogs that shouldn’t be there? Don’t blame the dogs though. This is a human problem and only humans can fix it.
Our cat buddies aren’t helping much either. One study done in the US found that free living cats there were killing billions of birds and millions of mammals every year. Now, c’mon humans. I don’t need to tell you that wild animals are already having a hard time out there. You keep building your cities in their homes and destroying their environment to farm. Wild animals are already disappearing from this planet at an alarming rate. Even I’m alarmed! Letting dogs and cats put even more pressure on the wildlife that are vital to keeping our whole planet in balance, is something that makes no sense and yet, you seem to just let them do it.
But what about the pets that do have homes? Come closer human. Let me tell you a secret. There are pet guardians out there who actually allow their dogs and cats to wander around killing things. Can you believe that? It’s crazy! Right? Some of those humans will deny that their pets kill anything and some of them don’t seem to care, which makes me really sad. If they are letting their pets go around free, who is protecting them from a world that is quite dangerous for pets? Free ranging pets get hit by cars, attacked by other animals (mostly other pets) , catch deadly diseases, and they are vulnerable to bad humans who might want to hurt them. If you love your cat or dog, why would you put them in such danger?
I asked my human to do a bit of research on how these issues affect us here, in Yucatan. She was able to reach out to a quite incredible non-profit called the Pedro y Elena Hernández A.C Foundation . They are a conservation organisation that works specifically in Protected Natural Areas of the Yucatan Peninsula. One of their most significant areas of work is education. Through their environmental education programme, they help raise awareness about environmental health, organise beach clean ups, give talks and, most interesting to me, is that they work with local animal welfare groups to hold run free sterilisations campaigns. You and I both know that sterilisation is essential to reduce the population of homeless dogs and cats and now we know that it saves wildlife too!
Now wait a minute. Why would a group that works hard to protect the big pink chickens with long necks, that you humans call flamingos, take part in pet sterilisation programmes? Luckily for us Irene Ku Doporto & Elizandy Serrano Alcocer, from the Foundation, were on hand to explain. It turns out that they love dogs and cats as much as they love wildlife. They just want to find a way for us to all live safely and responsibly together. They told me about the problems facing pets and wildlife in the region.
“One of the main problems in Mexico is the lack of dissemination of information about “responsible ownership” to create an adequate culture to have dogs and cats as pets in a domestic environment.
The lack of the “Pet friendly” culture has caused the overpopulation of abandoned or homeless dogs and cats, which are usually abandoned on the outskirts of towns, roads, garbage dumps, by unpopulated areas; these dogs and/or cats can cause serious social, health and environmental problems in any area where they are located.”
I was so excited to hear them mentioning how important being pet friendly is to all of us. When I asked how abandoned pets affect wild animals in Yucatan, they told me this.
“Both street dogs and feral dogs can cause serious damage to birds, reptiles and small mammals. For example, dogs abandoned on beaches attack nests of hatching sea turtles and can put at risk bird nesting colonies. Currently in Mexico we do not have any law that regulates this matter, but there are Feral Fauna Eradication Programs for Natural Protected Areas (ANP’s), where the problem needs to be addressed due to the impact on native or migratory wildlife. For this reason, it is necessary to create a culture of responsibility for our pets and reduce the abandonment of dogs and cats.”
I’m a naughty dog. I admit it. If I could chase wild animals, I probably would. Especially if they had tacos. Seriously though, it’s not OK for humans to allow dogs and cats, which I hate to admit, are non-native, invasive species, to destroy the incredible and valuable environment we have here in Yucatan. Luckily, the smart humans at Pedro y Elena Hernández A.C Foundation are always working to find positive solutions.
“There is still a need to create more links between the different types of organizations to work more on animal welfare, in Yucatan and in the rest of the Mexican Republic. However, there are different civil organizations that we link with government agencies to bring solutions to villages of the ANP’s, with actions such as free sterilization campaigns, awareness talks on responsible tenure, training for interested groups.”
So, it looks like it is possible for the people trying to help dogs and cats to work collaboratively with the people trying to protect wildlife to achieve the kind of world peace I’m dreaming of.
If you are still reading this, you’re probably saying to yourself ‘Where is the bit about my dog licking toads? That’s what I want to know about.” Don’t worry human. This is where I talk about the other side of pet/wildlife conflict. Even humans who do care for their pets in the most responsible way, may, one day, have to deal with a situation where their pet has been hurt by wildlife. So, let’s look at some of the wildlife that may be a danger to us and ways you can keep us safe.
Keeping cats and us dogs in the house and well supervised outside is always the best way to protect us and the wildlife we live around. Depending on where you live in Yucatan, you may encounter many types of creatures that could, potentially hurt your pet. Aside from predators like crocodiles, large snakes, certain birds of prey, and big cats, the vast majority of the indigenous animals of Yucatan don’t want to harm your cats and dogs. When it does happy it’s often because they are trying to protect themselves. I have made a list of some of the common wild animals that humans worry might hurt their pets and give you some tips on keeping everyone safe.
Scorpions and spiders
Humans find these quite scary, but dogs and cats like to chase them. The spiders that humans find scariest, which I’m always surprised at because they are cute and fuzzy like me, are tarantulas. Let me reassure you that tarantulas and scorpions in Yucatan may cause some pain if they are forced to protect themselves, but they are unlikely to kill your pet. Tarantula butts, which dogs seem to love to sniff, can leave annoying hairs in our nose, which can be quite irritating.
Bufo or Marine toads not only eat a lot of insects, which makes them extremely useful, but they are an important source of food for other animals such as birds, snakes, and even opossums. These toads can be found in gardens and yards in Yucatan, as they are attracted by moist areas and water and love a cool quiet place to hide in the day. At night they will seek out areas where insects gather, so lighting can draw them closer to the home. Bufo toads produce a toxic substance to protect themselves. This can be dangerous to humans, cats, and us dogs. It’s ok to pick them up and relocate them gently, but if you do touch one, make sure to wash your hands. If your pet is drooling, disoriented, pawing at its mouth, or showing other signs of illness or discomfort after playing with, licking, or eating a toad, seek veterinary attention immediately. Keep your garden clear of leaves and standing water and they will be less likely to pay you a visit.
Snakes are so vital to the ecosystem here, so please don’t kill them just for existing. Only exceptionally large snakes, like boa constrictors, are going to try to eat your pet. The smaller your pet, the more it will look like prey. If you live in an area where large boas are common and you have a cat or small dog, you need to supervise them when they are outside to protect them. Rattlesnakes and other venomous snakes are found in Yucatan and even though they will not go out of their way to hurt your pet, if your dog or cat disturb them, they will bite, and their bite can be deadly. If your pet is bitten by a snake in Yucatan, try to get a photo of the snake and seek veterinary care immediately.
Crocodiles are apex predators and are therefore especially important to protect. I’m sad to report that some dogs and cats do get eaten by crocodiles, but we can’t blame the crocodiles because they are only doing what they are perfectly designed to do. If you live near a body of water where crocodiles live, then it is crucial that you protect your pets by never allowing them near the water. Crocodiles move very quickly, and you are unlikely to be able to save your pet once it has been taken, so even with close supervision, accidents can happen. Crocodiles tend to stay away from places where humans frequent unless they are being given food, so don’t ever try to make friends with your local crocodile by feeding him. Don’t forget that leaving fish scraps and garbage out is one way to inadvertently feed them. Please don’t put people, pets, and crocodiles in danger by intentionally or unintentionally attracting them to your area.
Coatimundi, raccoons and opossums
These are all animals that can often be found in urban and rural areas. None of these animals would want to attack your cat or dog, but if your dog or cat chases or attacks them, they are very well equipped with big teeth and sharp claws. They can all cause quite serious injuries if threatened. If you know you have these animals in your garden or neighbourhood, the only way to prevent the kind of conflict that will result in injuries to your pet is to supervise and manage your dogs and cats when they are outside or anywhere they might encounter one of these animals. According to local opossum rescue Rescate Zarigüeyal, the main injuries they see on opossums brought to them for help are caused by dogs. Opossums are attracted by human food and rubbish. You know what to do humans. Be tidy.
Coyotes & foxes
These are both shy predators that you are unlikely to see unless you are a lucky human. There are not any reports of coyotes taking pets in Yucatan that my human could find, but that doesn’t mean it could not happen. It happens in the United States quite often and people who have small dogs and cats, who live in areas where there are coyotes take many precautions to keep them safe. So, it is unlikely that your pet will be attacked by one of these beautiful wild creatures, but your pet may chase them, kill, or injure them and get hurt in the process. No matter how well trained your dog is, we have very strong hunting instincts and sometimes we just can’t control ourselves. So, please humans, always keep us on a lead if you are ever taking us anywhere that there might be wildlife.
On the Yucatan peninsula, there are a number of big cats. These include jaguar, puma, ocelot, and margay. Encountering one of these incredible felines would be an incredibly lucky thing for a human, but not such a good thing for a dog or cat. Big cats are smart, and they know that humans are dangerous to them, so they will stay away from humans unless they are sick or injured. When that happens, they may come to places where humans live with pets and livestock to catch easy prey. When this happens, it is particularly important to contact the officials who handle issues like this. If big cats are coming close to your home, keep your pets safe and secure, especially at night and call the proper authorities. They will assess the situation and determine if the cat poses a danger or is in danger and may have to trap and remove it.
So many small animals are injured and killed by cats and dogs in Yucatan. If we want to live happily alongside all the animals who are native to the region, there things that humans need to do. Please don’t let your kitties go out unsupervised and kill wildlife. It may only be a little lizard to you, but that lizard is an important part of the environment. Many of the birds in Yucatan are endangered and quite a few are very tired as this is one of the major stopping points for migrating birds. Give the local wildlife a chance and have some respect for it. Always keep your dog on a leash in areas where you may encounter wildlife.
Even more important than us dogs and cats who are lucky enough to have responsible and caring humans to keep us safe are the thousands of homeless dogs and cats. Help your community to bring the population down by participating in spay and neuter campaigns. Help your neighbours get their pets sterilised and spread the word about the importance of reducing the homeless pet population, not just because you love cats and dogs like me, but to protect the future of the Yucatan for generations to come.
If you need help with a wildlife issue in your area, these are the official places where you can seek help. I tried to get the right details but if any of these are incorrect and you can help with more up to date information, please let me know.
Snakes & Amphibians
Ya’ax Kaan Yucatán: Rescate y Reubicación de Anfibios y Reptiles
They are experts at removing and relocating amphibians and reptiles safely. Please do not try to do it yourself.
Tel: +52 938 134 0969
The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT)
Address: Calle 59ᴮ 238
Yucalpetén, 97238 Mérida, Yuc.
Phone: +52 999 942 1300
The Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA)
Address: Calle 57, No. 180, Between 42 and 44
Fracc. Francisco de Montejo, CP 97203, Mérida.
Phones: +52 999 195 2893 & +52 999 195 2894/96
Yucatan Environmental Protection
Department of Environmental Conservation
Head of Department: Asis Alberto Alcocer Garcia
Tel: +52 999 930 3380 ext. 44029
Thank you to Pedro y Elena Hernández A.C Foundation for their help with this article and for all the wonderful work they can do.
We have permission under creative commons for the use of the photo that we adapted for the header of this article with Sir Rodders in it. No, Sir Rodders did not meet that toad. It’s all an illusion. “Lucky toad, jealous dog” by Scarto is licensed under CC BY 2.0