Feral dogs kill more livestock in Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh region than snow leopards and wolves combined. Now, conservationists and local communities are teaming up to contain the canines and protect local wildlife.
In India’s Spiti region, an unlikely threat to wildlife has emerged over the last few of years: feral dogs. Kaza, Spiti’s capital, only has 300 households – but as many as 250 feral dogs. They roam free, without proper homes, care and attention. These dogs have not been vaccinated nor sterilized, and have been left to scavenge and hunt for food.
During the tourist season, when garbage piles up around the village, the dogs easily find enough food, but once the tourists are gone, they often turn to hunting livestock and wild rodents and ungulates. In fact, studies have shown that these canines killed more livestock in some areas than snow leopards and wolves combined. The dogs are causing damage to local communities and wildlife; competing with snow leopards and other carnivores for wild prey and even attacking the cats sometimes. Such is the scale of damage that several villagers adjacent to Kaza have stopped keeping small-bodied livestock (sheep and goat) due to the damages they incur from these dogs. There are also concerns that they could facilitate the transmission of diseases such as rabies and canine distemper.
Community leaders have been trying to address the issue for years, but lacked the necessary resources and coordination. Now, thanks the generous support of the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department and the Leonard X Bosack and Bette M Kruger Charitable Foundation, we’ve been able to team up with local people and administration and get the effort to contain the fast-growing feral dog population underway.
First Camp Revealed Need for Training
In the fall of 2013, a first “animal birth control camp” was held in Kaza; a collective effort by the local community, the Animal Husbandry and the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department as well as local NGOs and animal welfare institutions. In this first drive, our team sterilized 102 dogs (73 male and 29 female) and vaccinated over 175 dogs for rabies. The community supported this drive by ensuring that every household takes responsibility for ensuring at least one dog is operated and taken care of, for some days after the operation.
One of the key challenges faced during this initial camp was the lack of skilled resources, especially paravets who could assist veterinarians in their work. This spring, to respond to the need for skilled paravets, our team and the HP Animal Husbandry Department help a two-day workshop where 15 local youth were trained to do this work.
These newly trained paravets were then quickly baptized by fire, assisting in a second round of animal birth control camps for feral dogs in May. Held in four towns across Spiti, these new camps were yet another multi-stakeholder effort, led by the local Panchayats (self-governing council) and supported by the local administration including the Animal Husbandry Department, the Forest Department and locally active NGOs like the Kaza Welfare Society and the Nature Conservation Foundation. The effort was supported by two NGOs working extensively in the field of animal welfare – Dharamshala Animal Rescue, and Tibet’s Charity who provided veterinary support and ensured humane treatment of dogs operated at the camp.
Overall, we have now reached out to 7 towns within Spiti, sterilized 211 dogs and vaccinated over 300 dogs for rabies. We estimate that we might have sterilized close to a third of the dog population in Spiti valley.
A Successful Effort, But Challenges Remain
While our efforts have undeniably been successful, controlling the dog population will require for the initiative to continue over several years, even if it is at a smaller scale. We’ve also begun to work with community leaders on improving garbage management, which probably is at the root of this problem.
The entire program for this year was co-financed by the Panchayat, the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department, the HP Animal Husbandry Department and the Leonard X Bosack and Bette M Kruger Charitable Foundation, with donated veterinary care from Dharamshala Animal Rescue and Tibet’s Charity.