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Need to control and manage feral animals in Nilgiris, say conservationists

The Animal Husbandry Department has joined forces with NGOs to feed stray animals; conservationists say this could increase their population and potentially spread diseases to the wild animal population

Conservationists have spoken out against the potentially disastrous consequences of feeding feral dogs and cats in ecologically-sensitive regions and helping to bolster their already booming population, arguing that feral animals prey on many species of native wildlife and also spread fatal diseases.

The criticism has come from conservationists after the Department of Animal Husbandry joined forces with various NGOs to feed stray and abandoned horses, dogs and cats during the lockdown.

According to Regional Joint Director of the Department of Animal Husbandry, S. Bagavath Singh, food was distributed to 118 horses in the Nilgiris this year, while 30 dogs each are being fed in Coonoor and Udhagamandalam every day by volunteers.

Nilgiris-based conservationist, N. Mohanraj, said that feral animals should be managed and contained in shelters and should not be encouraged to breed by being fed by authorities. “We have already lost many species of wildlife, such as the Golden jackal, which once common, has almost entirely disappeared from the landscape due to the spread of canine distemper among wild animals,” he said.

Many species of wildlife, such as leopards, also routinely hunt feral dogs, increasing the risk of transmission of disease to the wild animal populations. “We need to have a strategy in place to manage feral dog and cat populations. Though the feeding is born out of good intentions, we must realize that by feeding these animals and indirectly helping their populations to increase, we are having an impact on native biodiversity,” said another Nilgiris-based conservationist requesting anonymity.

Nigel Otter, Chairman of the Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS-India) which is assisting the local administration in feeding the feral dog and the abandoned horse population, said that dogs attacking wildlife was definitely a problem, especially in areas like Masinagudi. “On the one hand, we cannot let these animals starve, as they will have a higher propensity to attack wildlife and even people. But we do need to have a strategy in place, where the feeding is done alongside other measures to control the population of stray animals and minimise their risk to wildlife through sterilization and vaccination programmes,” he said, adding that volunteers were informing the WVS about dogs requiring sterilization while they were being fed.

“We are then capturing these dogs and sterilizing them prior to release,” he said. “Not all stray dogs attack wildlife. We need to identify the few that do develop a taste for wild game, and they need to be captured and kept in shelters,” added Mr. Otter.

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