Estimation of free-roaming domestic dog population size: Investigation of three methods including an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) based approach.

Warembourg, Charlotte; Berger-González, Monica; Alvarez, Danilo; Sousa, Filipe Maximiano; López Hernández, Alexis; Roquel, Pablo; Eyerman, Joe; Benner, Merlin; Dürr, Salome (2020). Estimation of free-roaming domestic dog population size: Investigation of three methods including an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) based approach. PLoS ONE, 15(4), e0225022. Public Library of Science 10.1371/journal.pone.0225022

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Population size estimation is performed for several reasons including disease surveillance and control, for example to design adequate control strategies such as vaccination programs or to estimate a vaccination campaign coverage. In this study, we aimed at investigating the possibility of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to estimate the size of free-roaming domestic dog (FRDD) populations and compare the results with two regularly used methods for population estimations: foot-patrol transect survey and the human: dog ratio estimation. Three studies sites of one square kilometer were selected in Petén department, Guatemala. A door-to-door survey was conducted in which all available dogs were marked with a collar and owner were interviewed. The day after, UAV flight were performed twice during two consecutive days per study site. The UAV's camera was set to regularly take pictures and cover the entire surface of the selected areas. Simultaneously to the UAV's flight, a foot-patrol transect survey was performed and the number of collared and non-collared dogs were recorded. Data collected during the interviews and the number of dogs counted during the foot-patrol transects informed a capture-recapture (CR) model fit into a Bayesian inferential framework to estimate the dog population size, which was found to be 78, 259, and 413 in the three study sites. The difference of the CR model estimates compared to previously available dog census count (110 and 289) can be explained by the fact that the study population addressed by the different methods differs. The human: dog ratio covered the same study population as the dog census and tended to underestimate the FRDD population size (97 and 161). Under the conditions within this study, the total number of dogs identified on the UAV pictures was 11, 96, and 71 for the three regions (compared to the total number of dogs counted during the foot-patrol transects of 112, 354 and 211). In addition, the quality of the UAV pictures was not sufficient to assess the presence of a mark on the spotted dogs. Therefore, no CR model could be implemented to estimate the size of the FRDD using UAV. We discussed ways for improving the use of UAV for this purpose, such as flying at a lower altitude in study area wisely chosen. We also suggest to investigate the possibility of using infrared camera and automatic detection of the dogs to increase visibility of the dogs in the pictures and limit workload of finding them. Finally, we discuss the need of using models, such as spatial capture-recapture models to obtain reliable estimates of the FRDD population. This publication may provide helpful directions to design dog population size estimation methods using UAV.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


05 Veterinary Medicine > Research Foci > Veterinary Public Health / Herd Health Management
05 Veterinary Medicine > Department of Clinical Research and Veterinary Public Health (DCR-VPH) > Veterinary Public Health Institute

Graduate School:

Graduate School for Health Sciences (GHS)

UniBE Contributor:

Warembourg, Charlotte Mélanie; Maximiano Alves de Sousa, Filipe Miguel and Dürr, Salome Esther


600 Technology > 630 Agriculture




Public Library of Science




Susanne Agnes Lerch

Date Deposited:

13 May 2020 16:58

Last Modified:

13 May 2020 16:58

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:





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