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Sunday, January 17, 2010

The practical side of science

 So, if you're a Russian wolf expert, why switch to studying stray dogs?
He quickly found that the strays were much easier to study than wolves. “To see a wild wolf is a real event,” he says. “You can see them, but not for very long and not at close range. But with stray dogs you can watch them for as long as you want and, for the most part, be quite near them.” According to Poyarkov, there are 30,000 to 35,000 stray dogs in Moscow [about 85 per square mile], while the wolf population for the whole of Russia is about 50,000 to 60,000 [in 6,600,000 square miles, or less than 1 per 100 square miles]. Population density, he says, determines how frequently the animals come into contact with each other, which in turn affects their behaviour, psychology, stress levels, physiology and relationship to their environment.
“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,”
The article in FT is fascinating. It's no real surprise that animals are smarter than people give them credit for, but learning to ride the subway is an interesting accomplishment.

The 85 per square mile estimate is interesting. Chicago is laid out 8 blocks to the mile, so a square mile has 64 blocks. So if we had that many strays here we'd average a bit more than one per block. That's a lot.