The uncanny evolution of Moscow’s stray dogs

Paul Raven @ 20-01-2010

Staying in the Russian capital for another post, here’s a fascinating article at the Financial Times about Moscow’s legendary population of stray dogs, and about the man who has been studying them [via MetaFilter; image by Adam Baker].

Muscovites have a close relationship with dogs, and the city is home to thousands of strays – more than eighty per square mile. And they’re not strays in the sense that we tend to think of them, namely abandoned pets; Moscow’s urban ecosystem has had a thriving population of dogs for long enough that a fully-domesticated animal released into the scrum of the streets would be unlikely to last more than a few days.

Furthermore, the population is big enough that it can be used to observe evolution in action; Andrei Poyarkov, a biologist specialising in wolves, has been studying Moscow’s canine tribes and learning about their gradual shift back toward a wilder nature, and about how the urban environment provides pressures that select for intelligence over aggression – to the extent that some of the dogs have actually learned to ride the subway system in search of reliable human benefactors to scrounge from:

“The second difference between stray dogs and wolves is that the dogs, on average, are much less aggressive and a good deal more tolerant of one another,” says Poyarkov. Wolves stay strictly within their own pack, even if they share a territory with another. A pack of dogs, however, can hold a dominant position over other packs and their leader will often “patrol” the other packs by moving in and out of them. His observations have led Poyarkov to conclude that this leader is not necessarily the strongest or most dominant dog, but the most intelligent – and is acknowledged as such. The pack depends on him for its survival.

Amazing how life finds ways of colonising and thriving in the interstitial spaces of the human world, isn’t it?

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2 Responses to “The uncanny evolution of Moscow’s stray dogs”

  1. Kate says:

    Instead of building kennels, they should radio collar the dogs and track the movements. Use the knowledge to better the science community.

  2. tim says:

    They actually did do something like this. After catching the dogs and sterilizing them, they planted tracking chips in them and let them back into the “wild”.

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