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Moscow’s strays: A study in reverse evolution

On the streets of Moscow, the evolution of dog is playing out in reverse.

So contends Andrei Poyarkov, a biologist and wolf specialist who has dedicated himself to studying the city’s vast population of strays — the 30,000-plus dogs that, while learning such new urban skills as using the subways, are in reality moving back to something closer to a wolf-like state.

His efforts were recounted in an enlightening piece in yesterdays Financial Times.

Poyarkov began studying the strays in 1979, starting with those living near his apartment and the ones he encountered on his way to work. He made recordings of the sounds that the strays made, and began to study their social organization. He photographed them and mapped where each dog lived.

Poyarkov, who works at the A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, says Moscow’s strays are somewhere between house pets and wolves, in the early stages of the shift from the domesticated back towards the wild. It’s a process that he believes can’t be reversed, at least not in individual dogs. The strays are resistant to domestication, and many can’t stand being confined indoors.

Most of Moscow’s strays rarely wag their tails, are wary of humans and show no signs of ­affection towards them. A few remain comfortable with people, but more have moved on to a second stage, where they will approach people only to get food.

A third group interact mainly with other strays and get their food from garbage bins.

The last of Poyarkov’s groups are the wild dogs. “There are dogs living in the city that are not socialized to people. They know people, but view them as dangerous. Their range is extremely broad, and they are ­predators. They catch mice, rats and the occasional cat. They live in the city, but as a rule near industrial complexes, or in wooded parks. They are nocturnal and walk about when there are fewer people on the streets.”

Comments

Comment from Anne’n'Spencer
Time January 19, 2010 at 1:07 pm

That’s a fascinating article. It’s interesting that people are aware of the strays, for the most part aren’t afraid of them, and will feed them. Still, though they are wild, three of the four types are still surviving because of human beings. It would be fascinating to know how the predator group got to be that way.

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