About a dozen hapless children have been killed in the recent past by feral dogs in Sitapur district, adjoining Lucknow in U.P. Not so long ago elderly women in Kerala were also killed in like manner.
What was the response of the U.P. Govt? To relocate these dogs in adjoining forest areas. After objections from the forest department, the Govt’s knee jerk reaction was scotched, and now the Lucknow Municipal Corporation (LMC) states that it intends to sterilize 60,000 dogs in 3 years, i.e. 61 per working day/ 8 per hour/ 1 every 7 minutes! Utopian! In contrast, its neighbouring city of Kanpur could sterilize just 350 dogs in the year 2016-17. Taking that as a yardstick the LMC would require 171 years to sterilize 60,000 dogs. In the interim how many more would become victims of the feral dog packs?
There is also a quarantine period before any animal is released into the wild, or even a new country. Very recently a herd of elephants from Karnataka were brought to the Dudhwa National Park, not far from Sitapur. Even these tamed elephants have to be quarantined for four months, before being allowed into the forest. In several countries, if a pet is imported, it too has to be quarantined as per local laws. Imagine the Govt of U.P., that couldn’t even arrange for oxygen supply for critically ill children, quarantining 60,000 sterilized, hungry and angry dogs! Not just a logistical nightmare, it is an absurd and impossible solution.
Some so-called animal lovers have claimed that the Sitapur attacks were by hyenas. They are either airing their ignorance or trying to throw red herrings before the investigators. Hyenas are not predators, but carrion eaters. They are also nocturnal, whereas all the attacks on the children were during the day.
Urbanites, politicians and bureaucrats may not know much about forest life. If a large number of feral dogs are released into the forest, besides disease, they would also disturb the ecological balance. They would need food for which they would attack other animals. Unfortunately, most wild animals, like deer, are swifter than dogs; so the latter would still be hungry. The only wild animal known to have a penchant for dogs is the leopard; and there aren’t enough of them around to contain the feral dog population. It is therefore safe to conclude that releasing a large number of feral dogs into the wild would be a remedy worse than the disease.
I am a dog lover, and have always kept dogs – gun dogs, guard dogs and pet dogs. As a young man I had trained my Labrador retriever to be a good gun dog cum retriever. Back then I also prided myself on my guard dogs. But as I grew in age (and hopefully wisdom) I felt it morally wrong to unleash my dogs on unsuspecting intruders. Now I just have a pet dog whose feral instincts are limited to rat catching and occasionally a squirrel in the garden.
A media report in my hometown Kanpur states that there are 125,000 stray dogs in the city. By its past record of 350 sterilizations per annum, the municipal corporation would require 358 years to accomplish the task, presuming that the dog population remained static! Huh! Anybody seen what happens to dogs in the mating season? So sterilization is no solution.
The same media report states that the city has 1400 dog bite cases per day. Govt hospitals spend Rupees One Crore per annum on anti rabies vaccines (ARV), and private hospitals a further Thirty Lakhs. These figures are alarming, and lend credence to the belief that pharmaceutical companies that manufacture ARV are actually backing the campaign to prevent the extermination of stray dogs, and finance the campaigns of so-called animal lovers and their organizations. This belief is bolstered by the Prime Minister’s recent visit to China. There was no agenda or report; but we have since come to know that China has reduced import duty on pharmaceuticals from India. So would anybody like to hazard a guess on how much control the pharma lobby has on the present Govt?
Now back to the feral dogs. For animals the word feral refers to those existing in a wild state. They are described as savage and brutal. Will they become docile after sterilization? The opposite could happen. It is reported that garbage that dogs scavenge is a major source of infectious diseases. When dogs contract them they become irritable and aggressive. In rural areas these dogs may have been feeding on cattle carcasses. With that supply dwindling with the advent of the present U.P. Govt, these dogs could be hungry and angry and turning to soft targets like human beings.
In Australia the native wild dog was the dingo canis familiaris. It was a major threat to sheep and cattle rearers. So the pastoralists exterminated them by shooting, trapping or poisoning. In sub Saharan Africa the population of the African wild dog lycaon pictus has shrunk to below rhino population levels. Cruel as it may sound, in the larger interests of the human populace, I see no other way out other than controlled extermination drives, to drastically reduce the feral dog menace.
If protected species like the tiger and leopard can be exterminated when they turn man eaters, then what is there to prevent the Govt from employing the same yardstick for man eating dogs? As a shikari of yore I devoured books like “The Man eaters of Kumaon” by Jim Corbett, after whom the famous Corbett Park is named. He hunted and killed man eaters, but he had an even stronger passion for the preservation of all forest species. One observation of his is worth noting – once a man eater, always a man eater, because the animal gets the taste of human blood. Hence one cannot hope to “convert” the feral dogs into docile vegetarians after sterilization or re-location.
Other than the misplaced ardour of the so-called animal lovers and the possible vested interests of pharma companies we also have to take religious sentiments into consideration. Hindus revere several animals and birds, associated with various deities. That includes the rat, the steed of Ganeshji, and the buffalo, the steed of Yamraj. But they are allowed to be exterminated or slaughtered. Among the most reverred of course is the cow Surubhi, a sentiment that is respected. Ironically, though there are many temples dedicated to Nandi the bull, there are hardly any dedicated to Surubhi. Perhaps the next reverred animal is the monkey, seen as Hanumanji. The monkey menace abounds across India, but is perhaps the most striking at the Ridge in Shimla, frequented by tourists from across the globe.
It is for this reason that in Himanchal Pradesh the monkey, has been declared vermin; and therefore liable to be exterminated. In U.P. only wild boars (an incarnation of Vishnuji) and blue bull (actually an antelope, where the male turns cobalt blue in old age) have been declared vermin and may be exterminated if they cause damage to crops. Perhaps it is time for the Govt of U.P. to make a referral of feral dogs to the vermin list; religious, social and commercial interests notwithstanding. Animals certainly don’t have absolute or inviolable rights.
In passing I may also add that for Christians the two most sacred creatures in the New Testament would be the dove and the lamb. The Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove (cf Mat 3:16) and Jesus was called the Lamb of God (cf Jn 1:29). But Christians have not used this as a reason to sanctify or deify such creatures. There is a lesson to be learnt here.
We should also take cognizance of the recent statement of Sri M.L. Khattar the Chief Minister of Haryana. He said that Muslims should not offer namaaz in public places. I agree with him, because as the adage goes “Your freedom ends where my nose begins”. But there is a rider. Khattar cannot be selective. He should begin by removing all the sacred cows, bulls and monkeys that are occupying public space and are a threat or nuisance to society; as also all the temples illegally built on Govt land, public places, parks, police stations etc. Indeed there is a lot of religious, political, social and commercial vermin that needs to be referred to the feral list.
* The writer is the Convenor of the Kanpur Nagrik Manch.