Purushottam Jyakhwa of Wonti in Bhaktapur says he has seen packs of feral dogs hunt down 12 calves/cows in his area in the past three years.
Baffled by the events and fearing any untoward encounters, Jyakhwa and other Wonti locals have started fending themselves with sticks every time they walk alone in the area in the evenings.
“They are in groups of six and seven and sometimes even 20 to 25,” says Jyakhwa who runs a teashop near Wonti.
“They first encircle their prey, snarl at it for sometime and then attack it from behind as they go straight for the hamstring (the tendon in the back of the hind legs). Crippled, the prey soon collapses after which the dogs start eating it alive.”
A pack of feral dogs linger around a meatshop in Dekocha, Bhaktapur. Photo courtesy: Dr Pranav Raj Joshi
Jyakhwa says he even tried to chase away the dogs initially but the dogs would become aggressive at him as well.
“It’s almost impossible to scare these dogs off single-handedly and I don’t even dare to do it,” he says. “Moreover, once the dogs have bitten their prey, they rarely survive.”
Locals in and around Wonti further say that the packs of mongrels no longer just hunt stray calves but have moved on to prey on the domestic livestock as well.
While Sundar Buhyu, a Wonti local, confirms another cattle killing just two weeks back in the nearby Chyamasi, Krishna Maya Suwal of Mili village says she lost 10 of her chickens and two goats to the feral hunters last Dashain.
Dr Pranav Raj Joshi, a local vet and stray animal rescuer, has been researching the killings after he was contacted by the locals through his friends three months ago.
Surveying the Shree Mili Hanuman brick kiln and surrounding fields, and as he comes across a pack of nine dogs lying out in the barren piece of land, he explains, “Normally, stray dogs aren’t seen walking around in such large groups unless it’s mating season.
These dogs are feral, which means they don’t belong to any particular area and keep roaming around for food.”
Though Joshi has personally not seen the dogs hunting, every local he talked to during his research told him the exact same details about the tactics they used to kill their prey – by hamstringing the prey from behind, which is typical of the hunting style of wild dogs.
“Besides, a month ago, I saw the carcass of a young calf that had been eaten from behind without any deep bite marks around its neck. It’s easy to tell that it had been hunted down by dogs and not other wild animals,” he says.
Purushottam Jyakhwa tells The Week about how the dogs attacked cattles. Photo courtesy: Dr Pranav Raj Joshi
As he notes the movement of the dogs while keeping a safe distance, he points to a black dog among the group and suggests that it could be the pack leader.
“Every hunting pack which consists of both male and female dogs always has an alpha male as the leader, which is more alert, and all other dogs in the pack follow and respect him,” says Joshi.
The group of dogs seemingly looks the same as stray dogs seen elsewhere in Kathmandu. However, living in the open fields, they are more muscular and well built.
Jyakhwa, however, says that these dogs are more aggressive, and even the way they look at people is different from normal dogs. Joshi, on the other hand, says only more detailed studies can further reveal to identify these dogs other than seeing them in packs.
How did it all start? Jyakhwa explains that it is a human-induced problem. Many poultry farmers from Wonti, Jhaukhel and Pakupati would throw their diseased and dead chickens in the river where the dogs went around sniffing for food.
Then they started hunting down weak cows and calves abandoned by the farmers and soon developed a taste for game.
“The farmers here keep their cows as long as they give milk and when they’re old, they just abandon them along with male calves that are of no use to them,” says Jyakhwa. “They know about the dogs preying on these helpless animals but they don’t care as they had to get rid of them anyway.”
But problems rose when these dogs started hunting their household cattle and fowls and even aggressively threatened humans as well.
Carcass of a young calf that dr Pranav Joshi came across a month ago in Wonti. Photo courtesy: Dr Pranav Raj Joshi
Though some dog bites have been reported around the area, due to lack of adequate study, it is not confirmed that the attacks were made by feral dogs or the local ones.
“With the way things are going, the dogs feeding on dead chickens to hunting stray calves and then even sneaking into the sheds to attack domestic cattle and becoming hostile towards people, it’s very likely that there could well be human casualties in the future,” fears Joshi.
Exactly a week ago, the Times of India also reported on a 10-year-old girl in Haryana, India, being mauled to death by stray dogs. The locals there were also suffering from a similar problem of the dogs hunting their cattle.
Jyakhwa says that people in the Wonti area are already alert and avoid these dogs as much as possible, which has worked till now and no unwanted encounters have taken place.
“However, there are many children of brick kiln workers in the area who are at risk. There are also farmers who take their infants along with them to the fields and put them to sleep while they go off to work, which could be very dangerous.”
Women from near the brick kiln have complained that when they carry their children on their back, the dogs have often tried to leap at the young ones.
“My eight-year-old son once came home crying in the evening from school as his path was blocked by a pack of aggressive dogs,” says Laxmi Suwal, a worker at a brick kiln. “He then took another route and somehow managed to get home safe, but it definitely is scary for kids.”
The locals even resorted to trying to kill these dogs by poisoning them. But they often failed because the dogs seemed to outwit them.
Dr Joshi however says without proper research they are at a loss on what step to take. “We still haven’t been able to figure out how many packs of these feral dogs we have in this area,” he says.
Having heard about such packs hunting in Africa, this is a rare case and he suggests that though one can’t neglect the situation, killing alone won’t be the ultimate solution.
Krishna Maya Suwal and other locals near Mili brick kiln talking how the dogs attack their fowls and posses a threat to their children. Photo courtesy: Dr Pranav Raj Joshi
Still trying to get help from other canine experts, Joshi says he has been talking to Gretchen Kaufman from Tufts University in the US who is trying to gather facts on how it can be controlled.
“One solution could be that we can neuter them so they become less aggressive,” says Joshi. “Moreover, it’s important to spay them to stop them from growing because even in the group that we saw today, there was a fairly young dog in the group which could be the offspring of the dogs in the pack.”
Without proper backing and expertise, Joshi says they have not been able to take any significant step.But even experts seem baffled by reports of such incidents.
“Ancestrally, dogs are from the same family of grey wolves who were natural pack hunters,” says Narendra Man Babu Pradhan, Conservation Biologist at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). “Men started domesticating these animals some 12,000 years ago after which their hunting and predatory instinct started decreasing gradually but hasn’t yet been completely subdued.”
Referring to some past incidents in New Zealand and Bucharest, Romania, where humans have become fatal victims of feral dogs, he says such isolated cases can have various possible factors.
“From food deficiency to fear in dogs and people misbehaving towards them, anything can be a reason for dogs often attacking people,” says Pradhan. “In this (Wonti) specific case, too, we can’t generalize, and without a proper site investigation and study, nothing can be said for sure.”
Prasanna Yonzon, CEO of Wildlife Conservation Nepal (WCN), further says that forming packs and scavenging is the innate qualities of the species, especially if they don’t have any regular food source.
Aggression towards any moving objects and smaller species like cats to mice is also often commonly noted predatory behaviors that all dogs still possess.
“The dogs in Wonti have to be semi-feral. They aren’t completely wild and they don’t even belong to any community,” says Yonzon. “In this case, once they succeed in hunting down a prey, and with a sense of victory, they also develop hunting tactics and they will kill again.”
Lack of expertise aside, the local authority or Bhaktapur Municipality seems completely unaware of the situation.
“We haven’t received any written complaints yet,” says Moti Bhakta Shrestha, an official at the municipality. “If the dogs pose threats to the human community, we’ll have to take measures.”
“Who is going to take the responsibility if there are human casualties? Dogs have the right to live but no right to go around hurting humans. So you either adopt dogs before they become a nuisance, or kill them.”
Amid the unfavorable and dangerous environment created by the feral dogs, Dr Joshi emphasizes that people should not forget that it is a problem created by humans themselves.
Though extreme measures might have to be taken to get the situation in Wonti under control, he is still looking for viable options and expert help that can ensure human as well as animal welfare.
Dealing with street dogs
“Poisoning and inhuman killing of stray dogs is in no way a proper method to control their population,” says Dr Joshi. “It will only create a vacuum which is filled by other feral dogs that carry different diseases with them.”
Community dogs act as guards and are very friendly to local people, he says, and they don’t let strangers or feral dogs come into the community.
“Unless they feel threatened or people misbehave with them, they rarely attack,” says Joshi.
ABC or Animal Birth Control technique by spaying dogs is the best and most effective method to create a healthy dog population, he says.
Working for the welfare of street dogs and animals in Bhaktapur for more than five years now, Dr Joshi also formed a non-profit organization called Bhaktapur Animal Welfare Society (BAWS) that has been treating sick dogs in the area as well as giving anti-rabies vaccination and also spaying some dogs with the help of volunteers from ROB (Riders of Bhaktapur).
When the municipality began street dogs poisoning, he says, many of the dogs he had treated were also killed.
“It’s discouraging that people don’t understand that street dogs have a freedom to live as well,” says Dr Joshi. “And if they are unhealthy, mangy and diseased, it’s our responsibility to take care of them as we not only share our living space with them but our health is also directly related to theirs.”
Whereas the government does not have enough resources and does not even show proper interest in humane treatment of stray dogs, there are several organizations and professionals willing to work to better the situation. Just proper communication and support will be more than enough, he says.