Human encroachment of wild habitats has brought man's best friend in close contact with the wild. A photo feature documenting the escalating cases of feral dog attacks on wildlife
Team Nature inFocus
A pack of feral dogs ambushes an Indian Wild Ass and her foal in the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary, Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat. Photograph: Kalyan Varma
Trigger warning: This photo feature contains graphic content which may be disturbing.
Before you read the story and browse through the numerous images of dogs attacking wildlife, we want to assure you that we are not 'dog haters' and that the sole aim of the story is to raise awareness about the severe threat that feral, free-ranging and domesticated dog populations pose to the wildlife in our country.
It is estimated that there are 60 million dogs in India, of which 35 million are free-ranging/feral dogs or as we urban folk refer to them – stray dogs. These dogs are highly dependent on human-provided food, but in rural areas and spaces in and around wildlife reserves, where there is a larger population of wildlife, feral dogs have ample opportunities to hunt wildlife and interact with them on multiple levels.
A 2017 study highlighted how dogs have reportedly attacked 80 species, of which 31 are listed as Threatened on the IUCN Red list, including four Critically Endangered species. Most of the attacks were carried out by packs of dogs, and 45 per cent of these attacks lead to the death of the prey. Nearly 48 per cent of the incidents were reported in and around protected areas.
Another recently concluded study, from the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary, Maharashtra, showed that 95 per cent of the dog population had very high levels of exposure to the canine distemper virus (cdv) and canine parvovirus (cpv). Similar tests on the most common canid in the study area, the Indian Fox, revealed that 34 per cent were positive for recent exposure to cdv and 36 per cent for cpv.
Narendra Patil, a wildlife conservationist, and Meghna Uniyal, Director, Humane Foundation for People and Animals (HFPA), have filed a petition with the Supreme Court (SC) to reform India’s dog management policy, particularly calling for the abrogation of the questionable Animal Birth Control policy (ABC Rules) of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI). “One of the prayers of the HFPA petition is for the SC to direct the government to remove all free-roaming dogs from in and around Protected Areas within 3 months. The SC is hearing multiple petitions relating to the stray dog issue and all petitions are pending,” explained Meghna Uniyal.
Sumanth Bindumadhav, Acting Country Director at Humane Society International/India, recognises that the ABC Rules have several shortfalls but he is of the opinion that we are guilty of talking at two extremes. Citing the ideas of mass sheltering and euthanasia as fallible, he said, “I don't think sheltering is going to work, but at the same time, I also don't think that the ABC Program is going to solve the problem. Even euthanasia as a solution in isolation will not work. The rate at which you can do that will not match the birth rate of these dogs, simply because they have so many resources around them.”
He believes that it is impossible to look at a nationwide solution when you consider the sheer scale of the problem. “I think solutions have to be extremely regional and adapted to whatever parameters that articulate to that one region. It has to be something cohesive and it has to be multiple agencies coming together to solve this, and not the prerogative of any one agency.”
In December 2020, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) released a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) document to tackle feral and stray dogs in tiger reserves (TRs) across the country. Although it was a welcome recognition of the danger that free-ranging dogs pose to wildlife, experts have suggested that the SOP is inadequate and lacking.
Abi Tamim Vanak, Senior Fellow and Convenor at the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, ATREE, holds grave concerns about the SOP. “This SOP completely ignores the science behind dog population management, and instead blindly copies the failed ABC Rules of the AWBI. It is clear from the SOP that no experts who have actually worked with the problem of free-ranging dogs in wildlife areas have been consulted.”
“In a recent paper published in Scientific Reports, we highlighted the challenges in managing dog populations using agent-based models. We showed that the ABC program more or less fails to control dogs, except under highly restrictive ideal world scenarios,” he added.
As we await the SC to arrive at a decision, which is bound to divide public opinion even further, what is apparent is the massive threat that the nation’s wildlife faces in the form of its 35-million-strong stray dog population.
Over the last few years, through our annual photography contests and on NiF Hive, we have received images of feral dog attacks on wildlife with increasing frequency. From the snow-covered mountains of Ladakh where attacks on Red Foxes and Himalayan Brown Bears have been documented, to the beaches of Puri where Olive Ridley Sea Turtles have been seen to fall prey to this widespread carnivore, scroll down to see endless instances where wildlife has come under threat from feral dogs.