To deal with the fallout of a growing number of feral dogs in tiger reserves, the National Tiger Conservation Authority on Monday laid down a standard operating procedure — count them all, take them away, and vaccinate and sterilise them. And within all 50 tiger reserves in the country, all dogs, “stray” and “feral”, will be treated as “street dogs”.
With this, according to the SOP released on Monday, all dogs within tiger reserves will be dealt with in keeping with the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001. The set of rules, under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, say that street dogs are to be picked up, sterilised, vaccinated and released where they were picked up from. In case of tiger reserves, however, that won’t apply: “Feral/stray dogs captured from within tiger reserves should under no circumstance be released back and a suitable alternate site be selected for their rehabilitation.”
In August, the latest tiger survey had found more dogs than tigers in 17 reserves across the country. Conservationists have flagged this because dogs can be carriers of canine distemper virus. When tigers prey on them or consume meat of animals dogs may have killed, the virus can be transmitted to tigers.
“Feral dogs have become a major concern in wildlife conservation. In our report this year, we had shown how tigers were infected with the distemper virus because of feral dog populations in reserves,” Dr YV Jhala, senior scientist at Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun, said. “Feral dogs are harmful in three ways. They spread diseases, they prey on wild ungulates (hoofed animals) in packs and they hybridise (cross-breed) with wild canids like jackals and wolves, contaminating the gene pool.”
To keep track of diseases that need to be monitored, all canine diseases occurring in a region will be documented, especially those that are zoonotic (originated in animals), notifiable (which must be reported to authorities) and emerging (a new disease that has a significant public health impact). Wild animals at risk are to be identified, as are areas that feral dogs frequent. And a seven-member committee has to be formed, with veterinarians, civil society organisation, a panchayat member and the deputy director of the reserve.
“The canines in our reserve were last vaccinated four years ago,” Corbett Tiger Reserve director Rahul told TOI. “We don’t know the population of feral dogs either. We are planning the counting and vaccination exercise in February.”
Dog rescue workers, meanwhile, had reservations about the new SOP. “The NTCA wants reserves to get rid of dogs, but will it ensure they are rehabilitated and fed? The Uttarakhand high court had in 2016 asked each district to set up a shelter for stray animals. It has not been done in four years,” said Ashu Arora, founder of Doon Animal Welfare Foundation in Dehradun.
They are also concerned about the possible impact on urban areas. Dishant Nayak, an animal welfare activist from Haridwar, said, “There have been many deaths caused by dog bites in urban areas. If wild dogs from forests are also released here, it could be worrying. Why should wild dogs be left to roam in the cities?”