On a windy afternoon in July, Moolchand walked into Kibber, a village in the Spiti Valley in northeastern Himachal Pradesh, following closely at the heels of a foreign tourist. “Moolchand ji,” a passerby called out. “Izzat toh deni chahiye”—you should show some respect. A group of people, waiting for the daily bus out of Kibber, laughed. Moolchand, a friendly and trusting dog, is regarded with affection by tourists and tolerated by villagers, even when he wanders near the sheep pens.
But the treatment he receives is rare. In this corner of the Himalayas, dogs are entangled in a difficult conflict with locals. Spiti has long been a pastoral economy, and it depends on livestock—sheep, goats, horses, yak, donkeys and dzo—to provide resources such as meat, manure and wool. A study published in January 2017, in the Swedish journal Ambio, found that feral dogs were responsible for a little over 63 percent of the livestock deaths in Spiti, and 80 percent of those that died were sheep and goats. Chandrima Home, a doctoral student at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bengaluru, and the lead researcher of the study, found that over the span of one year, dogs had killed 238 livestock in 25 villages. Although sterilisation was thought to be the best way to tackle this problem, local enthusiasm for participating in sterilisation camps has dwindled. According to Home, culling measures need to be considered. “I think we have to come to terms with the fact that we have to physically remove some dogs from the landscape,” she said, “but it has to be done systematically and in a humane manner.”
On 14 and 15 July, the animal husbandry department and veterinary hospital in Kaza—the subdivisional headquarters of the Spiti Valley—hosted an animal birth-control programme, an annual camp arranged to sterilise some dogs in the town, where the canine population was growing rapidly. It was a collaboration between two NGOs. Funds for medicines were provided by Ecosphere, which works on tourism and local livelihoods, and four staff members from the Nature Conservation Foundation, or NCF, which works on snow leopard conservation, had come down from Kibber to assist in the proceedings. Led by Tanzin Thinley, a field coordinator at NCF, they cheerfully sedated, cleaned and prepared dogs for the operations, while two vets from the Animal Husbandry Department performed the surgeries.
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