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.

Devesh Gadhvi | Abdasa, Kutch, Gujarat

Great Indian Bustard being chased by a feral dog in Desert National Park Rajasthan
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The Great Indian Bustard lays only one egg per year, rarely two. Survival of this Critically Endangered avian is bleak due to various threats like power lines, pesticides, habitat loss, poaching and predation by feral dogs. The image won the runner-up prize in the Conservation Issues category at the Nature inFocus Photography Awards 2017.

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.

Ashit Choudhary | River Chambal, Rajasthan

Feral dogs charging at Smooth Coated Otters in River Chambal
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Smooth-coated Otters face threats such as habitat loss, pollution of wetlands and poaching for illegal wildlife trade. Feral dogs add to these threats, thus placing the local otter populations in grave danger.

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.”

Ashish Dalela | Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh

Nilgai chased by a pack of feral dogs in Uttar Pradesh
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Indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, the Nilgai or Bluebull is ubiquitous across northern India, and overabundant populations grazing in agricultural fields are a common sight. Though people consider the Nilgai as sacred, the conflict between Nilgais and farmers is on the rise. Here, a pack of feral dogs chases an adult away from a field. The image was a finalist in the Nature inFocus Photography Awards 2019.

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.

Bhavik Thaker | Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand

A feral dog attacking a jackal in Corbett national park
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The feral dog spotted an Indian Jackal from across the river and stalked the animal before launching an attack. Soon, the individual was joined by a pack of dogs and they successfully chased the jackal away. The image was a finalist in the Nature inFocus Photography Awards 2019.

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.

Samyak Kaninde | Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary, Himachal Pradesh

Red Fox chased by feral dogs in Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary
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A Red Fox runs for its life after being chased out of its den by a pack of feral dogs. The harsh high-altitude climate of the Himalayas seems to be of little trouble to these free-ranging dogs that are now dispersing from human-inhabited areas and taking over protected areas. The image was a finalist in the Nature inFocus Photography Awards 2020.

Randeep Singh | Pong Lake Wildlife Sanctuary, Himachal Pradesh

Randeep singh rsa - Indian Wildlife’s Perilous Dog Problem | Nature inFocus
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The photographer observed a flock of Bar-headed Geese near the lake when one of the birds was attacked by a feral dog that was waiting in ambush. The bird succumbed to its injuries and more stray dogs present in the vicinity tried to grab it. But the dog managed to run away with its catch. The image was an entry in the Nature inFocus Photography Awards 2020.

Mohammad Yasir Hussain | Jhajjar, Haryana

A feral dog hunts down a Blackbuck fawn in Haryana
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As the sun came up, a herd of Blackbucks started to move towards the thicket that bordered the crop fields. A pack of dogs had already lined up across the fields, and the sheer speed, agility and stamina on display was beyond belief. The older bucks managed to outrun the alpha dog a few times but this fawn which was only a few weeks old had no chance. The image was a finalist in the Nature inFocus Photography Awards 2020.

Vikas Patil | Dandeli, Karnataka

Feral dogs hunting a Spotted Deer in Dandeli, Karnataka
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The Kali Tiger Reserve, located in the Uttara Kannada district, is spread over an area of 1300sq. km. The region also boasts a large population of blackbucks and other animals that are threatened by the free-ranging dogs in the vicinity. Around the time of photographing this image where dogs are attacking a Chital, the photographer reported about 20 similar incidents.

Nandakumar MN | Bikaner, Rajasthan

Feral dogs attacking a Nilgai in Bikaner, Rajasthan
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As deforestation and developmental activities plague our green patches, many herbivores are forced to venture close to human-occupied spaces in search of food. As a result, they come in contact with stray dogs. Locals in the region have reported that such attacks on Bluebulls are a common sight, and they are often injured by the dogs.

Saurabh Sawant | Loma, Ladakh

Tibetan Wild Ass being attacked by feral dogs in Ladakh
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A Tibetan Wild Ass, also known as Kiang, was crossing the river when a pack of feral dogs noticed the animal and began barking at it. Despite seeing the dogs, the Kiang moved towards the bank where it tackled the dogs and managed to escape.

Devki Nandan | Rawatbhata, Rajasthan

A pack of stray dogs attacks a family of Smooth-coated Otters on the banks of River Chambal
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A pack of stray dogs attacks a family of Smooth-coated Otters on the banks of River Chambal. With the increased destruction of pristine natural habitats, more and more human settlements are encroaching on wild spaces, thus bringing feral dogs into contact with wild animals. The image won the Conservation Issues category at the Nature inFocus Photography Awards 2019.

Nikhil Devasar | Sultanpur National Park, Haryana

Nilgai being attacked by dogs in Sultanpur National Park
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A pack of feral dogs can take down animals as large as Bluebulls. These dogs are agile and powerful enough to attack animals on land and in water, making it difficult for them to escape.

Trikansh Sharma | National Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh

A feral dog and a marsh crocodile in National Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary
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On a visit to the sanctuary, the photographer heard a dog barking and looked through his binoculars to see what the animal was up to. He found a feral dog barking at a Marsh Crocodile. The canine kept inching closer when the crocodile did not move or respond. The crocodile continued to maintain its non-responsive state. This image was an entry in the Nature inFocus Photography Awards 2020.

Hemin Patel | Tarapur, Maharashtra

Feral dog attacking an injured flamingo
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A man tries to save an injured flamingo stuck in the mud, as a dog tries to chase him off to get to its food. The bird lies caught between hope and despair. The image was an entry in the Nature inFocus Photography Awards 2019.

Dhruv Prajapati | Dabhoi, Gujarat

Feral dog chasing wetland birds in Gujarat
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While most accounts of stray dogs focus on terrestrial animals, they also affect wetland avian species. In fact, research has shown that dogs have been the cause behind the extinction of at least eight bird species across the world while placing numerous others in grave danger.

Siddhesh Bramhankar/The Grasslands Trust | Pune, Maharashtra

Feral dogs chasing Indian Wolves in a grassland near Pune
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Indian Wolves are found in grasslands near human-occupied regions. This brings them in close contact with feral dogs, which are reservoirs for diseases such as canine distemper virus (cdv) and canine parvovirus (cpv).

Yatin Verma | Outskirts of Sultanpur National Park, Haryana

A feral dog with a blackbuck kill in Sultanpur, Haryana
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A dog with the remains of a Blackbuck fawn. Sultanpur is a popular destination for bird photographers but few people are aware that the outskirts of the bird sanctuary are home to Blackbucks, which are in danger of being attacked by free-ranging dogs.

Arnab Chattopadhyay | Puri, Orissa

Feral dog feeding on a dead olive ridley sea turtle
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On encountering a dog feasting on a dead Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, the photographer found out from a few fishermen nearby that this was a common occurrence on Puri beach. Across the world, stray dogs are emerging as a significant threat to sea turtles. They not only feed on dead sea turtles that wash up ashore but also on live turtles, hatchlings and eggs. The image was an entry in the Nature inFocus Photography Awards 2019.

Omkar Sumant | Baramati, Maharashtra

Feral dogs with a dead antelope fawn
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Feral dogs not only reduce the prey base for wild carnivores but also transmit diseases and impact population numbers of endangered animals. This image of an antelope fawn captured by feral dogs was an entry in the Nature inFocus Photography Awards 2019.

Shantanu Sharma | Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

Feral dog attacking a Spotted Deer in Pench Tiger Reserve
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During a trip to the national park, the photographer saw a pack of feral dogs feeding on a live Chital. As he approached the Chital, two of the dogs left the scene, and only one continued to feed on the animal. A forest guard was also with the photographer, and they immediately informed the ranger about the incident. The image was an entry in the Nature inFocus Photography Awards 2020.

Mohit Verma | Bikaner, Rajasthan

A Steppe Eagle and feral dog in Bikaner, Rajasthan
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The Jorbeer region of Bikaner houses a large dumping ground where carcasses of local cattle and camels are discarded. Many species of eagles and vultures frequent this region in large numbers to feed on the carcasses. Feral dogs are also a common sight in Jorbeer. During the summer months, when many of the migratory raptors are not around, the dogs gain complete access to the animal remains. In this image, a Steppe Eagle is seen protecting its meal from the canids.