Feral dogs of Spiti Valley : threat to snow leopards and other wildlife

Snow Leopard
Snow Leopard

The rapidly increasing population of feral (wild) dogs in remote Spiti Valley is becoming a cause of concern for the wildlife wing of the forest department as the canines are posing threat to not just humans but also the endangered snow leopards (Uncia uncia).

“Feral dogs, which generally hunt in packs, have taken a toll on the population of bharal (blue sheep), also known as Himalayan blue sheep or naur (Pseudois nayaur), which is the main prey of snow leopard,” says Rajesh Sharma, divisional forest officer (wildlife) Kaza.

Snow leopards are endangered species. The Himachal Pradesh (HP) government has initiated a project to conserve the habitat of snow leopards in the state. The wildlife wing of the forest department is running a snow leopard project in collaboration with Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore (India). The department with the assistance of the foundation is executing management plan to improve the habitat of the elusive cat in the Spiti Valley. To analyse the population of leopards task of collaring the cat is being undertaken in the high altitude areas of Spiti and Pin valleys in Lahaul and Spiti district.

They are mountainous, rugged, remote and thinly populated cold desert areas. Spiti Valley begins with the origin of Spiti River from Kunzum range, and traverses about 150 km through huge, barren and fragile mountains located on either side. The valley is characterized by different types of habitats such as alpine pastures, dry alpine scrub and interspersed small agricultural patches in the vicinity and surroundings of small primitive villages. The area is endowed with a wide variety of endangered/rare wildlife like snow leopard (Panthera uncial), Siberian ibex (Capra sibirica), Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus chanco), Himalayan fox (Vulpes vulpes Montana), Woolly hare (Lepus oiostolus) and Blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), etc.

The wildlife wing has tracked 30 snow leopards in Spiti Valley alone through camera traps. “We have very healthy numbers of leopards in Spiti but the dogs are still concern for us,” says Sharma.

A research conducted by the High Altitude Regional Centre, Zoological Survey of India in Solan (HP), found that the feral dog menace has even forced farmers to give up sheep rearing. The study conducted by two scientists Anil Kumar and Rahul Paliwal revealed that each family in the region owned about 10 to 15 sheep but in the last five years, due to the dog menace, the people have shifted to cow keeping.

According to another study published in Current Science (VOL. 108, NO. 10, 25 MAY 2015) 68% of the people interviewed considered feral dogs as the most prominent threat to their livestock. In most villages, minimum 7–8 (in some areas up to 35) dogs inhabit, and often target goats/sheep for hunting, usually attacking at night. Until a decade ago, sheep/goats were the most dominant component of livestock of the people in the valley. About 10–30 animals were owned by each family and it was a significant source of income/livelihood…..But due to dog depredation, for the last 5–6 years they have shifted to cow-keeping….. It is alarming that now these feral dogs have started victimizing the young calves of cows, often, even in captivity, and usually chase women and children also, if found alone. The villagers never retaliate, most probably owing to their Buddhist culture and peaceful nature.

The Zoological survey recommended government to take appropriate measures to control the dog menace.

“In my opinion, the government should pay adequate attention to the problem. Appropriate measures should be adopted in the valley to revive the eco-friendly natural lifestyle of the people and sustainability of wildlife,” says Avtar Kaur, officer incharge of the High Altitude Regional Centre.

In the last two years, nearly 250 dogs have been sterilized. But the authorities themselves feel the need to enhance the measure to curtail dog population. The dog menace is severe particularly in Kaza, Spiti, Kibber, Tabo and Losar villages. (The Hindustan Times and Current Science, VOL. 108, NO. 10, 25 MAY 2015)

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