For representational purposes (Photo | EPS)
For representational purposes (Photo | EPS)

Time to rein in man’s best friend on streets

According to World Health Organization estimates, there are about six crore strays in India, a country which accounts for 36 percent of global rabies deaths.

India is sitting on a landmine of its huge stray canine population, and there are no easy solutions to manage them in the absence of a systematic approach. According to World Health Organization estimates, there are about six crore strays in India, a country which accounts for 36 percent of global rabies deaths. Worryingly, 30-60 percent of reported cases and deaths occur in children under 15 years. The haunting video of a five-year-old being mauled to death by strays in Hyderabad cannot be erased from memory. The growing population of stray dog carers, coupled with people’s preference to adopt exotic, imported breeds over endemic ones, has put pressure on civic authorities, for whom sterilisation is the only way to reduce the stray population. It has not been uniformly successful across India. For instance, while Mumbai has 1.64 lakh strays, up 72 percent from 2014, Bengaluru showed a decline from 3.10 lakh in 2019 to 2.79 lakh in July 2023—still much higher than Mumbai’s count.

A recent Wildlife Institute of India study showed that more than in urban areas, a scenario of serious concern may be emerging in the country’s vast rural outback. A major part of the stray canines’ diet in rural areas comprised livestock (74.29 percent) and wild species (13.06 percent), which consisted of birds (4.49 percent), lagomorphs such as hares, rabbits and pikas (3.67 percent), rodents (2.45 percent), and Tibetan wild ass (1.63 percent), besides marmots, blue sheep and several species of ducks, cranes and pelicans. This spells disaster for India’s biodiversity.

More worryingly, wildlife genetic researchers who studied canine fur samples found emerging wolf-dog hybrids through interspecies mating near Pune and in central India. This is considered detrimental to the understudied Indian wolf population and points to the possible emergence of a more aggressive canine hybrid which can threaten pastoral communities and their livestock. All this is in the absence of an accurate census of stray dogs across India. Animal rights activists, dog lovers, veterinarians and the concerned government departments need to put their heads together to usher in a mindset change and solve the problem, the seriousness of which is underplayed. Failure on that front could be far more disastrous than ever imagined.

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The New Indian Express
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