- Exclusive focus on welfare of stray dogs leading to urban wildlife decimation
- They attack in packs and kill blackbuck, spotted deer and bonnet monkeys
- The IIT community urges urgent intervention by government
The IIT Madras (IITM) campus, a bio-diversity rich area adjoining the Guindy National Park (GNP), is facing a grave threat to its natural, wild fauna. During the last 4-5 years the campus has seen a huge increase in the number of incidences of free-ranging stray dog (Canis familiaris) attacks on wildlife (mainly spotted deer (Axis axis), blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), bonnet monkeys (Bonnet macaque), monitor lizard (Varanus bengalensis), turtles and star tortoises etc. resulting in the death of the wild animals. Among these, the blackbuck and the monitor lizard are protected under Schedule I of Indian Wildlife Act.
Unnatural death of wild animals
Informal records kept by the campus wildlife club show that majority of unnatural deaths of wild animals occurred in the recent times on IITM campus can be attributed to stray dogs hunting other wildlife. The extent and nature of hunting is such that vulnerable state of the wild animal such as, delivery and pregnancy and neo-natal fawn periods are exploited by stray dogs (picture shows a pregnant female blackbuck torn open by the stray dogs). This has resulted in a sizable population reduction in the endangered blackbuck and spotted deer during this period. Currently, IIT Madras campus has over 170 stray dogs, which form multiple feral packs at different locations making it almost impossible for any young wild animal to survive. Many adult animals also have succumbed to this predatory behaviour. This is not an impasse. This condition can easily be reversed with human intervention which currently is tilted towards the welfare of stray dogs alone. Some observations in this regard are as follows:
Periodical relocation of dogs not happening
Observations since 2001 through night patrol by volunteers of the wildlife club at IITM have clearly showed that stray dogs attack wildlife in packs. In addition, they have also shown that strategies such as relocation of hunting packs of stray dogs periodically (prior to 2014) have helped the vulnerable blackbuck population thrive on campus for so many years despite the human induced pressures. Stray dogs form packs of 3 or more at night (especially) and engage in chasing, stalking and hunting deer and blackbuck. This was not happening when periodical relocation of aggressive dog packs was carried out and total number of dogs was maintained low. Enabling such a mechanism is very important in addition to stopping the entry of new dogs into the campus for the well-being of all other species on such vulnerable places. With more than 8 lakh stray dogs in Chennai city alone, wildlife should not be the target of translocation.
- Observations by wildlife conservation enthusiasts within the campus for more than 20 years show that sterilization and augmented food supply to dogs do not reduce the hunting behaviour of stray/feral dogs.
- The Indian Jackal, the wild inhabitant of GNP and IITM Campus, has been under threat from diseases such as menge, and canine distemper spread by stray dogs in addition to chasing. Hence, their population which is necessary for the natural balance of the ecosystem is getting affected by the presence of large number of stray dogs.
- The argument put forth by certain quarters to keep stray dogs as predators in such urban or island wildlife habitats is suicidal. Like the lots of marine iguanas was decimated in Galapagos islands, the human support to the stray dogs will decimate the wildlife inside such small urban islands, unless swift measures are taken to control the dog population. This argument also does not consider the fact that dogs are not natural predators in this context and their population is increasing due to the food supplement by humans and by bringing more dogs from outside. More importantly, the herbivore population in such walled, isolated habitats is controlled by resource limitation as can be observed from the balanced populations of chital and blackbuck in the area encompassing GNP and IITM campus for more than 100 years.
- The present animal welfare regulations such as, “no stray dogs shall be relocated” have not been helpful in the resolution of this situation. Most of the stray dogs present within the walled campus are “relocated” from elsewhere by people to the campus making the situation grave.
- The lack of a facility to relocate stray/feral dogs even from such areas which has considerable biodiversity and wildlife and located within the immediate vicinity of a National Park (Guindy National Park) is a severe threat not just to the wildlife within the IITM campus but to that within GNP too.
Denying the Right to Life of Wildlife
Articles 21, 48A and 51 of the Indian Constitution clearly safeguards the need to protect wildlife of the country. According to article 21 every species has a right to life and security, subject to the law of the land, which includes depriving its life, out of human necessity. Article 48A lays down the directive principle for protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife. It reads as: “The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country”. Similarly, article 51A (g) of the constitution clearly states that “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures”.
Abnormal increase in stray dog population on campur
However, when stray dogs which are a human dependent species are being brought in and allowed to increase in population with the help of human beings (who are well aware of ‘denying life to other wildlife’), the law needs to help in the protection of wildlife in their natural habitat. There are enough safeguards to stop cruelty to dogs which should not be misinterpreted to deny “the right to life” of other animals. Translocation of wild animals is one of the most scientifically criticized approach in this regard due to the high mortality rates and many other serious concerns. If stray dogs cannot be re-located, how are the more stringent wildlife protection laws bent to translocate wild animals? How is it not interpreted as “cruelty to animals”? Don’t the wildife have the right to exist where they belong?
It is submitted that the current animal welfare law (which seems to offer special privileges to stray dogs over all other species) should not be applied in its most stringent form to wilderness ecosystems which are crucial habitats for deer, black buck, endangered turtles, hares and other fauna that are vulnerable to predation by dogs. It has been established through scientific studies that feral dogs are a significant threat to wilderness ecosystems, especially, those located in “transition or buffer zones”.
Why not shelter facility for dogs?
Under these circumstances, the IITM community requests urgent intervention and special provisions to stop maintaining any free-ranging and stray dogs inside the IIT Madras campus and similar habitats in the country. It is also urged not to translocate the wildlife from such urban ecosystems to elsewhere since these wildlife have an important and crucial role in maintaining the urban environment and human well-being. Active citizen’s participation to protect birds, animals, and plant life in urban areas are urgently needed instead of the exclusive focus on the welfare of stray dogs. Chennai corporation or other government agencies (through CSR funds or otherwise) may set up a special shelter facility /dog parks/gardens for the welfare of such stray dogs that need to be re-located. These can become model dog parks /gardens where citizens can ensure the welfare of stray dogs in much better ways than the present state of maintaining them with waste food and unhealthy or hazardous conditions on the streets.
Any day, a walk in the natural wilderness of a place like IIT Madras campus rejuvenates the mind and body and one need not have to travel to a zoo or travel miles to see a spotted deer or blackbuck. Shouldn’t we protect them here?