Were one to pen a nippy ode to the passions of the urbane stray dog advocacy groups, it would perhaps run something like this: More barks less bytes, Ignorance is bliss, When sealed, With a dog's kiss! Indeed, such activists bristle with rage at the suggestion of wildlife field researchers that free-ranging dogs be removed from jungles as they adversely bear upon wild creatures.
Dog hounds a wild boar at Banni in Kutch, Gujarat. Chetan Misher photo
Activists holler that humans have displaced dogs from their natural habitats. Some activists offer the lame-duck solution of sterilisations and vaccinations without realising how ineffective these measures are in controlling these virtually unowned killer dogs that roam the wilderness. But what exactly is the scientific profiling and evolutionary history of such dogs? Dogs (Canis familiaris) are the world's most common carnivores, and have been introduced by humans everywhere.
Abi Tamim Vanak, PhD, and a fellow at both the National Environmental Sciences Programme, MOEF, and Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, ATREE, Bangalore, answered my query thus: "The most recent evidence points out that wolves and modern domestic dogs shared a common ancestor. There is nothing genetically unique about free-ranging dogs in India. They do not form a distinct subclade, and there is very little evidence for such a thing as an Indian native dog.
They are part of the same clade as seen all over Western Europe, Asia etc. Domestic dogs are commensals of humans, and are heavily subsidised by humans in terms of direct feeding, garbage, human waste, and livestock carcasses. Thus, they occur at unnaturally high densities for a medium-sized predator. If there was a situation, wherein truly feral dogs (that received no subsidy from humans) survived by hunting wild prey in areas where there were no longer wild carnivores, then dogs would be filling a niche. However, there are very rare cases of this in the world. The only large-scale case, where dogs have gone feral and become a part of the ecosystem, is the Dingos in Australia, but not before Dingos themselves played a part in the extirpation of some marsupial carnivores."
DOG IN THE MANGLER
One of the finest photo-documentation's of free-ranging dogs killing wild animals is the one by Vickey Chauhan. He came upon a neelgai (Blue bull) that was being savaged by dogs from a nearby village at the Indroda Nature Park, Gandhinagar (Gujarat). Chauhan had gone to click migratory birds when he saw the neelgai cornered in the water.
Vickey Chauhan Photo
"It was like a cow's calf screaming in agony and helplessness. The dogs were tearing away the flesh even as the neelgai was alive.
I summoned help as I feared the dogs would attack me as they looked strong and blood-thirsty. There were about five dogs in the water and seven waited outside. As reinforcements arrived, we were able to chase away the dogs. The injured neelgai staggered away but we saw the dogs had got it later and were eating it," recounts Chauhan. The dogs were habituated to killing wild animals. The park's staff, as is the case with forest officials in many other wilderness areas of India, are resigned to the dogs' predation and do little to stop this.
LEPERS IN THE WILD
Wildlife researchers cite well-documented cases of dogs posing hazards to global wildlife as they are carriers of diseases.
Vickey Chauhan Photo
In Issue 7.4 of the journal, Current Conservation, the eminent veterinarian, Aniruddha V Belsare, writes: "Dog-transmitted rabies poses a conservation threat. Introduction of canine rabies resulted in the local extinction of African wild dog populations in the Serengeti-Mara system (Tanzania/Kenya) in 1989; similar spillover events have resulted in dramatic population declines of the Ethiopian wolf population in the 1990s. Several other multi-host pathogens can also persist in large dog populations.
Dogs have been implicated as a source of canine parvovirus (CPV), contributing to Grey wolf mortality on Isle Royale, and as a potential source of canine adenovirus (CAV) transmitted to Maned wolves in Bolivia. The most infamous canine distemper virus (CDV) epidemic occurred in the Serengeti in 1994, wiping out a third of all lions and many hyenas, leopards and bat-eared foxes. Several other species, including African wild dogs, Caspian sea seals and Lake Baikal seals, have also experienced high mortality rates as a result of CDV introduced from dogs. Domestic dogs may be the source of CDV infections that have recently been reported to impact endangered Amur tigers living in the Russian Far East." We can only shudder at the effect were such doggy diseases to hit the Asiatic lion in its lone bastion of the Gir forests.