Method used to estimate numbers and density among wildlife will be implemented for this study; aim is to curb human-animal conflict and make the city rabies-free by 2020
Pune’s relationship with stray dogs has grown increasingly complex over the past few months. While the city boasts a sizeable population of animal-lovers, there are enough of those who see indigenous canines as a nuisance. Now, ResQ Charitable Trust, Pune, run by Neha Panchamiya, along with Dr Avi Vanak, from Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bengaluru, have collaborated to conduct the first ever scientific population census of these dogs. In preparation, the city has been divided into 97 grids based on ease of data collection and density of buildings in the area. Fifty dedicated volunteers will be working 10 hours each to complete the 500 hours required for the project.
Be it a rabid dog biting seven people at a Wanowrie society or another biting a child in a chawl on Pashan-Baner Link Road, or a watchman arrested in Wakad for manhandling a dog by stepping on its neck, the human-animal conflict in Pune is constantly on the rise. Panchamiya and Vanak feel it will be easier to address problems such as rabies and other vaccinations once there is documented knowledge of how many dogs they are dealing with.
While the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) was supposed to do a survey sometime in July this year, Panchamiya said that there probably has been no survey done over the last four to five years and definitely not in a scientific manner. Without accurate information it is difficult to implement programmes like the animal birth control programme or sterilisation one. She added that that there is no way to criticise the census since one has not been done in a long time.
Elaborating on the duo’s shared vision to make Pune rabiesfree by 2020, Panchamiya said, “There has never been a proper systematic survey or census conducted of stray dogs in the city. One of the major reasons why the animal birth control programme or the vaccinations programme run by the PMC do not reach their optimal goals is because they have no idea about how many dogs they will have to handle. This is the first time a proper census is being done, one rooted in scientific methodology,” Panchamiya told Mirror.
The method, called the Capture-Recapture, is used by ecologists and biologists across the country essentially to estimate population sizes and related parameters such as survival, birth rates and migration rates of wildlife.
Vanak, who is an animal ecologist, faculty member at ATREE and a fellow with the Welcome Trust DBT India Alliance, has been working specifically with dogs for the last 12 years. Explaining the method further, he said, “The Capture- Recapture-method is generally used for wildlife census – for instance, to calculate the tiger density and numbers in India. It is a robust scientific method in which the city is divided into grids based on the density of the houses. Photos of the dogs in a specific region will be taken over several days. Then, a software is used that analyses the photos. This process is repeated over four or five days and helps in giving the minimum population number. This is then used to get an estimate, which will be a proportion of the population.”
The apparatus is simple – a phone for the photos and a notepad to check details. An app with inbuilt software for matching the images is also in process. The output will then be uploaded to a statistical software for the numbers. The programme is being funded by the Welcome Trust DBT India Alliance.
The study doesn’t come without challenges, however. The first is that it needs to be completed in a short period of time to be most effective. Trained manpower is another issue and it is also imperative that the images taken by the volunteers be of good quality.
“Most of these are practical challenges and can be overcome with proper planning. ResQ is more than equipped to handle them. I cannot begin to emphasise on the importance of a survey like this to deal better with issues that we face with free-ranging dogs, Vanak added.”
Panchamiya echoed. “As an NGO working towards reducing human-animal conflict in the urban ecosystem, we believe the work we are doing will greatly help the civic bodies and ourselves to plan better and measure the impact of the programmes implemented before. We request residents of Pune to cooperate with the teams and come forward to report any cases of unprovoked dog bites, as well as any unusual behaviour in dogs, so we can test and educate people on safety and prevention.”
Along with the census, the survey will also look at the dynamics of the free-ranging population of dogs in order to gain scientific insight on important factors that affect street animals as well as determine the efficacy of vaccination initiatives. This is important as it will help attach value to resources assigned in any intervention project involving such dogs. The programme is also being run in Solapur city, Bengaluru and villages in and around Baramati, in order to have a mixed gradient.
Panchamiya added, “This is one of the first research projects in India to examine the dynamics of rabies in stray dogs. It will enable greater understanding of how rabies spreads across dog populations, the effect of the size of the population on spread rates and the impact of ongoing control measures in reducing the spread. The project also aims to generate awareness amongst the public in steps to take if anyone is bitten, especially if it is an unprovoked attack.”
█ I cannot begin to emphasise on the importance of a survey like this to deal better with issues we face with free-ranging dogs.
Date : 04 December 2017