Free-ranging dogs kill more livestock in India’s Spiti region than snow leopards and wolves. Now, conservationists and local communities are teaming up to contain the canines and protect local wildlife and livelihoods.
In India’s Spiti region, an unlikely threat to wildlife has emerged over the last couple of years: free-ranging dogs. Kaza, Spiti’s capital, only has 300 households – but as many as 250 free-ranging 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 even wild ungulates. In fact, studies have shown that these canines killed more livestock in some areas than snow leopards and wolves.
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 damage they incurred 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 to the generous support of the Leonard X Bosack and Bette M Kruger Charitable Foundation, we’ve been able to team up with local people and administration and begin a concerted effort to contain the fast-growing free-ranging dog population.
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 Forest Departments of the State of Himachal Pradesh 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. They even divided the responsibility of ensuring that the 15-20 person strong team was well fed and taken care of.
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 organized 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 free-ranging 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 we have been able to sterilize close to 30% of the total estimated dog population, the proportion of dogs sterilized in the hub of dog breeding, the ‘source population’ of Kaza, is over 60%. Given the initial challenges of remoteness of this region, lack of local capacity, and the need for bringing together multiple stakeholders, this effort has succeeded at putting in place an independent mechanism that can sustain this effort. However, controlling the dog population will be a challenge that will require for the initiative to continue over several years, while aiming to target a sizeable proportion of the population, each year. 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 (HP) Forest Department, the HP Animal Husbandry Department and the Leonard X Bosack and Bette M Kruger Charitable Foundation.