During his lifetime, Jim Corbett, the hunter-turned-conservationist after whom Asia's first national park is named, spent much of his time in the jungles around the Himalayan foothills near Nainital. He tracked game, brought down man eaters, and, in his later years, photographed his beloved tigers. A good portion of the time he spent on the trail of big cats was in the company of his dog, Robin, whom Corbett called the "biggest-hearted and most faithful friend man ever had."
Even today, in villages surrounding the Corbett Tiger Reserve, dogs are found in plenty, both as companions and free-roaming animals. These dogs are considered valuable as they warn the villagers and guard their livestock from predators. Sometimes, they are preyed upon too.
In the buffer zone, dogs are the frontier of protection for the residents who rely on them to be their alarms
Where there is a high population of unvaccinated dogs, the possibilities of disease transmission to humans and wildlife increase. Therefore, in a proactive step towards promoting a greater sense of co-existence in the region between the human and big cat populations, while safeguarding the interests of wildlife, India's National Tiger Conservation Authority commissioned a dog population survey for the first time in the 5km buffer zone of Corbett Tiger Reserve, carried out by Humane Society International/India. The purpose of the survey was to determine the vaccinated and unvaccinated dog population, and eventually, through treatment, eliminate the risk of transmission of diseases like rabies, distemper and parvo from dogs to tigers and leopards, which may occasionally prey on roaming dogs. In the greater scheme of things, eradication of rabies stands to benefit the human population as well.
Photo Credit: Kelly O'Meara
The survey in Ramnagar, (the only town within the buffer zone) found that only 352 dogs are not owned by the town's residents. These dogs are either confined or roaming, and often act as the primary alarm to warn residents of the approach of a wild cat. With the inclusion of the roaming dog estimate for Ramnagar, HSI/India estimates a total of 17,061 dogs within the buffer zone of Corbett Tiger Reserve -- 13,378 of whom are not currently vaccinated and 11,411 of whom are also unconfined. The presence of so many unvaccinated owned dogs can be attributed to the lack of awareness amongst the owners about vaccination and sterilisation. The survey showed that 20% of the dogs were female (male dogs are preferred because they act as guards) and 13% of these owners agreed to have their female dogs vaccinated, rather than sterilised, upon the provision of such a service.
To help address the possibility of the outbreak of disease, HSI/India has proposed a Mass Dog Vaccination program in the area to vaccinate the dogs and identify any that may be infected. Previously, MDV programs have been carried out in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and other national parks around the world. The MDV program is a proven humane solution that can help maintain the delicate balance between the habitat of the wild and human settlements with dogs.HSI/India is currently preparing a proposal for the National Tiger Conservation Authority to take this project into the next phase of vaccinating the dogs as a pilot project that can be then extended to other national parks of the country.
The presence of dogs can help temper instances of human-wildlife conflict and serve as a crucial link in maintaining the delicate balance of co-existence between the two.
It is important to remember this is a preventive measure against the possible spread of diseases and hence, cannot be used to justify any movement that supports the removal or obliteration of healthy dog populations from within the regions that they inhabit.
In the buffer zone, dogs are the frontier of protection for the residents who rely on them to be their alarms, not only because of their keen sense of hearing and smell but also due to their fierce loyalty and courage. Therefore, the presence of dogs can help temper instances of human-wildlife conflict and serve as a crucial link in maintaining the delicate balance of co-existence between the two. Such a move should not be construed as an attempt to place the interests of any one species over the other; rather, it is an effort at fostering co-existence while considering the varied interests of different species. The use of safer, humane methods like anti-rabies vaccinations has shown more success in the fight against rabies and so, the proposed intervention of MDV will help protect all --the wild cats, dogs and humans from rabies, without upsetting the timeless bond between man and his best friend. Somewhere, in the happy realm above, a certain "Carpet Sahib" and his faithful dog would approve.
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