Muddled in confusion and with a lack of clear data, the ‘dog situation’ in Sitapur stands to become worse. Swift, decisive steps based on scientific information are needed urgently
The past six months have left multiple citizens of villages across Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur in shock, rage and fear with fatal attacks by animals on 15 people (as reported last), with 11 deaths reported in the past two months. The response to these tragic deaths has been just as tragic — the rampant killing of street dogs.
Official numbers tout it to be at least 30 street dogs with another 50 being relocated to forests, while unofficial numbers cross 100. Some of the dogs that were killed showed bullet marks, some showed signs of strangulation, while others still were badly beaten with sticks till they succumbed to injuries.
The question that plagues the Government, animal protection community and the media is the exact nature of the animals responsible for the bites. Are they wolves, jackals, hyenas, foxes, feral dogs, wild dogs or street dogs? No one knows.
So far, no post-mortem or forensic investigations have been undertaken for the dead animals and only seven post-mortems have been undertaken out of the 14 dead children. This absence of clear scientific understanding has contributed to a lack of clarity in respect of the solutions.
There is no clear evidence one way or the other for the animals being wolves or dogs, and therefore, at this stage, it cannot be claimed by any Government authority with certainty to be one or the other.
As a result of this misinformation, no significant steps have been taken by the Sitapur administration and man-animal conflict are on the rise. After rampant bloodshed in the area, there are hardly any dogs left in Sitapur. This just proves that in addition to being inhumane and illegal, killing of dogs is completely ineffective.
When we reached out to Deputy Inspector General (Law and Order) Praveen Kumar on this issue, he assured us that he would issue a statewide anti-killing order to protect street dogs. However, for over 100 dog deaths, not a single FIR has been filed, including two dead dogs, where local activists tried to convince the Sitapur police to register the FIR.
Although the bodies were sent for post-mortem, the report showed no signs of human hair, flesh or blood in the mouths or bodies of the dogs — making it clear that these animals paid for a crime they didn’t commit. This points to an utterly compromised investigation scene and it is the responsibility of the DM and the Sitapur police to uphold better systems of law enforcement.
For safety of the people, the only step undertaken so far is a notification about safety around the village. Recently, we and our partners conducted an education workshop under the aegis of the DM, for the representatives of 80 villages in Khairabad, Sitapur district on conflict management, with specific emphasis on the prevention of bites and rabies. We are also awaiting the initiation of state-level training workshops for officials from the police, forest, veterinary, education and health departments to mitigate man-animal conflict, as promised to us by the Principal Secretary, State Urban Development Department.
Additionally, we urge the Government to take the following steps urgently to mitigate future human and animal losses:
i)The Sitapur DM and Superintendent of Police must look after that killing of street dogs is immediately put to a stop. They should also take strict action against the perpetrators of illegal displacement and killing of street dogs and the state police department must ensure that such actions are curtailed in the rest of the state. This includes the crucial filing of FIRs in local police stations, which has not happened so far.
ii)The Sitapur divisional forest officer (DFO) and the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department must establish, through forensic proof, the nature of the animal involved in these incidents. It is only through such forensic investigation, which the DM was responsible for, that the “dog vs wolf” debate will be put to rest, once and for all.
It is also the responsibility of the Sitapur DM and the State Government to use drones and camera traps in places where these animals have been sighted — for the future prevention of such conflict.
The nature of the solution is dependent on the identification of the animal involved and, hence, without this information, we are shooting in the dark.
iii) The DM and the education department of the Uttar Pradesh Government must undertake education programmes on dog bite and rabies prevention in areas of high conflict to ensure that preventable attacks are stemmed in the future.
Muddled in chaos, confusion and with a lack of clear data — the situation in Sitapur stands to become worse for everyone involved. Swift, decisive steps, based on scientific information are needed urgently — in the absence of which conflict will continue to sustain.
(The writer is the Executive Director of Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations)