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The dogged problem

If stray dogs are intruding into every nook and corner of human habitation and biting kids, their free-ranging counterparts are roaming the jungles and killing the young of mammals and ground-nesting birds. Vikram Jit Singh writes

chandigarh Updated: May 11, 2014 13:33 IST
Vikram Jit Singh

If stray dogs are intruding into every nook and corner of human habitation and biting kids, their free-ranging counterparts are roaming the jungles and killing the young of mammals and ground-nesting birds.

These killer stray or feral dogs in the jungles are not to be confused with Dholes or wild dogs (which are a separate and wild species). These strays are not "part of nature" as our dog advocacy groups anchored in the cities will have us believe through their repetitive propaganda broadcasts.

In the Shiwalik jungles behind the tricity, stray dogs are creating havoc, with sambar fawns being the favoured targets. As the heat rises and water recedes, dog packs lie in wait at the wetland's shore for the thirsty fawns to emerge from the jungle. Even fawns of the highly-endangered Brow-antlered deer in Manipur are killed by dogs.

In Haryana, wildlife conservationist, Suresh C Sharma, reports the killing of chicks of Sarus cranes in Sonepat district. In some wildlife sanctuaries, desperate authorities kill dogs secretly to rid the menace. According to the NGO, Conservation India, "Dog populations from nearby human settlements travel into wildlife habitat, increasing the potential for pathogen transmission to wildlife. Studies have shown that dogs harbour several diseases that can be deadly not only to humans (such as rabies) but to wild carnivore species (like tigers, leopards, foxes and wild dogs) as well. Dogs also transmit diseases such as canine distemper virus (CDV) and canine parvovirus (CPV)."


I sought the views of Bombay Natural History Society Director, Dr Asad Rahmani, on the menace that free-ranging dogs pose to wildlife. Dr Rahmani is not only a long-standing member of the National Board for Wildlife chaired by the Prime Minister but is also India's representative on many a global wildlife consultative committee.

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Stray dog eating a peacock in Sonepat.(Photo: Suresh C. Sharma)

In an emailed statement laced with wit and some blunt speaking, Dr Rahmani told me: "The problem of dog menace is a very emotive issue and these so-called animal rights organisations will not allow any control of dogs. It is a huge menace in Mumbai but the Mumbai High Court has given orders in 1998 to totally stop euthanasia of stray dogs. Instead, sterilisation was suggested but that is done in such a ham-handed manner that it is not effective. We have lakhs of stray dogs in Mumbai. Walking on the street is sometimes difficult.

We also have some evidence that dogs have increased in rural areas after the massive decline of vultures due to the killer (veterinary) drug, diclofenac. I wish diclofenac was lethal to dogs also! In that case, probably the Government of India would have banned it effectively! Who cares about vultures even if they become extinct?"

Pointing to the nation-wide issue, Dr Rahmani added: "Stray dogs are a menace in almost all wildlife sanctuaries, particularly the smaller ones that are surrounded by human habitation. Stray dogs are a huge problem in the Andaman island where they dig up turtle eggs. They kill nearly 50 per cent of the chicks of Black-necked cranes in Ladakh. In North Sikkim, I have seen stray/feral dogs (abandoned by the Army) digging out marmots.

I love dogs but only pet dogs, not stray ones which roam in cities, towns and forests. My suggestion for controlling the population of stray dogs is to have a massive sterilisation programmes in the cities (where they will be easy to catch) and elimination programmes in our forests, beaches and grasslands where catching them is not easy as many have become feral."


What complicates the issue is that the self-appointed

"saviours of dogs" show minimal interest and resource allocation in tackling the killers ranging the wilderness as their attention is focused on the welfare of urban dogs. Forest department officials feel their hands are tied because they fear a backlash from such "saviours" were they to adopt quick and effective means to tackle killer dogs. Delving on the role of dog advocacy groups and activists who have come to be known as "bunny hugging antis", Dr Rahmani declares: "It is pointless to educate or argue with fanatic animal rights activists; they do not listen to anyone.

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Dog feasting on Indian hare inside Mayureshwar sanctuary (Maharashtra) (Photo: Hari Somashekar)

In Mumbai, we even have a Stray Dog Welfare Association, populated with bored housewives who have nothing else to do except feeding biscuits to stray dogs. They arrogantly think that they are superior human beings and doing wonderful things by giving pricey biscuits or 'chappatis' to dogs." To this adds wildlife researcher, Abhishek Narayanan: "People advocating protection of feral/free-ranging urban dogs! Kindly make a note. Yes, this is the natural behaviour of a dog.

If you argue that this is what they normally do, then stop putting food stations, picking up puppies and saving them (or at least apparently proclaim as being saved) and let nature take care of itself. When one starts favouring a species, it causes an imbalance in the subtle balance of nature."