Free Ranging Dogs of the Upper Himalayas

By Chandrima Home

Ever since dogs were domesticated, they have been an important part of peoples’ lives and continue to stir feelings of compassion. Today, domestic dogs are the most abundant terrestrial carnivore with a staggering global population of close to a billion. The relationship between humans and dogs, when viewed through an ecological lens, reveals a myriad of interactions. Although there has been growing evidence of threats to wildlife by dogs, few studies have looked at their specific role in livestock depredation. One such study “Commensal in conflict” was published by ATREE’s researchers in Ambio journal in 2016.

In the Trans-Himalayan landscape in India, dogs have added to human-animal conflict by emerging as the major predators of livestock for the resident agro-pastoralist community. Dogs not only kill small and medium-bodied livestock (such as sheep) but they also move across the landscape tracking their prey.

With the Spiti valley becoming an increasingly popular destination for adventure tourism, the number of restaurants and hotels in the area has grown in recent years. The absence of a proper waste-management system has led to the accumulation of garbage on roads and along rivers, providing a much-needed resource for the free-ranging dog population. Because of this resource boost, the once-small dog population has exploded and become a major threat to livestock. Over time, these dogs have spread to several remote villages and high altitude pastures, threatening not only livestock but also other wildlife such as blue sheep, snow leopard, and red fox.

Economically the damage caused by livestock depredation by dogs was found to be comparable to that caused by snow leopards due to their choice of livestock species and the numbers killed. The high levels of conflict can undermine existing conservation efforts within the landscape.

This study has important implications for the prevailing policies of dog population management. The current rules and regulations in India prescribe that the only method for regulating dog populations is through sterilisation. However, sterilisation is unlikely to solve the problem in the short-term, especially since it is likely that only a small fraction of the dog population is becoming feral and may be responsible for most of the attacks. These feral dogs can be seen mainly in the periphery of villages, as well as in the pastures. It is therefore necessary to tackle this issue head on by removing such problem-causing animals to begin with. At the same time, proper waste-disposal strategies and encouraging responsible dog ownership will help reduce the dog population over time and alleviate incidences of livestock depredation.