María Paulina Baena Jaramillo

BOGOTÁ â€" In a kind of eerie, Darwinian evolution, abandoned pets in parts of Colombia have become feral beasts and predators that are proving more fearsome than wild animals. Once again, wildlife is proving defenseless in the face of yet another man-made threat, produced in this case by former owners of an unwanted dog or cat.

Signs of their presence were recently seen in the Chingaza national park east of Bogotá, and in coffee producing areas west of the capital. We recently traveled to Chingaza to look, together with members of the Wii Foundation, for spectacled bears. In the park's buffer zone, we stumbled across the scattered, half-rotting, half-dried remains of a lowland paca. The large rodent didn't seem to have been killed by a bear, an ocelot or a puma â€" which in any case are now thought extinct in the park â€" but by a wild dog, or pack of dogs.

"Usually you don't find forest animals dead in an exposed area and their carcasses left exposed in this way," says Daniel Rodríguez, the foundation's director and a leading spectacled bear conservationist. Rodríguez notes that people usually take their hunting trophies with them; ocelots bury their dead prey to protect them; and foxes usually eat up their meal entirely.

Pacas aren't the only animal victims of such mishaps. In the department of Tolima west of Bogotá, a camera caught a pack of dogs attacking a bear cub. And in Guavio, outside the Chingaza park, peasants have woken to find their sheep killed in dog attacks. Deer are another frequent target.

Forming packs

Since when do dogs hunt this way? Are they not tagged as domestic animals? Isn't "wild dog" an oxymoron?

Enrique Zerda, a professor at Colombia's National University who has studied feral animals, says the problem began in the 1950s, when recreational hunting was permitted and pets accompanied their owners on outings. The dogs would sometimes remain in the mountains or were lost, and had to survive on their own. All ties to humans were broken as they no longer depended on people for food of shelter. Instead they formed packs to hunt. Genetically, it should be pointed out, they are identical to wolves.

Unfortunately, nobody has carefully studied these animals. Biologists deal with wild fauna not domestic animals, and the government considers this a minor issue. "We do not know their behavior, nor at which point they become wild or the area they occupy," says Zerda. "My investigation is into how much like wolves they become â€" if they follow the same behavioral patterns."

For now, Zerda is seeking answers to several questions: How much impact do feral dogs have on biodiversity? And how can this problem be controlled without a cull? Perhaps through sterilization or adoption centers?

Damage and disease

Wii's Daniel Rodríguez says the dogs are proving harmful in three specific ways. "They prey on native species and pursue ducks, migratory birds, guinea pigs and deer," he says. "They transmit illnesses like canine distemper, parvoviral pathologies and rabies to forest animals and humans. And they impact the economic well being of rural families by feeding on sheep."

An additional problem is that they compete with naturally existing predators. As data compiled by Procat Colombia revealed, feral dogs in Bogotá"s eastern hills are thought to have forced wild cats and dwarf coatis to move to other sectors. This is happening elsewhere in the world: In Australia, dogs compete with foxes for small mammals; and in India and Africa, they compete with wolves for antelope and rodents.

For now there is no policy in place to manage these animals. Environmental and academic bodies are just starting to analyze the data and environmental authorities have yet to pay much attention to the situation. Some experts, nevertheless, have begun putting forth suggestions. While some are calling for a sterilization campaigns (for pets), others propose a "humane" cull given the difficulty of returning the animals to their domestic condition.

Time to pay attention

Generating policies is complicated, says Daniel Rodríguez. Animal defenders, for example, will likely denounce any attempted cull. Elsewhere in the world, however, authorities have ended up taking just that approach to tackle the problem of invasive species, which Colombia's feral pets essentially are.

On the Galápagos Islands, for example, authorities in the Galápagos National Park decided to kill off goats, which had stripped entire mountainsides of their vegetative cover, leaving tortoises without food or shade.

In Colombia, the problem is mainly in the department of Cundinamarca, the Bogotá wetlands, Chingaza, the countryside outside Medellín and the Nevados national park. Feral dogs aren't the only menace. Cats have also moved back into woodlands and are hunting native birds and lizards.

Researchers agree more data is needed but say the problem primarily comes from people abandoning pets. They say strong policies are needed before it's too late. The ministries of the environment, agriculture and health, in the meantime, would do well to look into the problem given its impact on forest wildlife, livestock and the possibility that feral dogs and cats could transmit diseases to humans.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ