Feral dogs emerge as dominant predator in Sikkim

Gangtok, Dec 5 : As their population grows unchecked, feral dogs have emerged as the dominant predator in Sikkims wildlife landscape posing a grave risk to high altitude endangered species like snow leopard and red panda, a senior forest officer said here on Monday. According to Forest & Wildlife department, these canines defined as 'Free Ranging Dogs' are growing in numbers in forest areas, especially high altitude zones of Sikkim near the Tibetan Plateau, and are displacing or feeding on native wildlife species. Humans, if found alone, and high altitude livestock like yak calves are also being attacked by these ferocious dogs. "This problem is already serious. Most of our endangered wildlife species are in these forest areas and these Free Ranging Dogs have become the top carnivorous. They are at the top of the food chain having displaced the snow leopard and the Indian leopard from their prime wildlife habitat. They are feeding on our pheasants, ground nesting birds and mammals. If we don't act timely, our wildlife areas could be overrun by these dogs," Sandeep Tambe, the additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) of Sikkim Forest & Environment Department, said at a function in Gangtok on Monday. Red panda, the state animal of Sikkim, is also an easy prey for these dogs as it is a slow moving animal and as per wildlife authorities, "don't stand a chance" against the pack of feral dogs. Though a full estimate of their population is not available, Tambe mentioned a study reporting that there are around 400 free ranging dogs alone in the high altitude Tso Lhamu Valley in North Sikkim which is merely 50 km long. These wild dogs are mostly spotted near camps set up by the Indian Army and para-military forces in forest areas close to the international borders of East Sikkim and North Sikkim. They are attracted by waste food found close to these camps, especially during harsh winter when it is not easy to hunt their usual prey. Considering this, Tambe informed that the Forest department has started working with the Indian armed forces to manage their food waste. "One way of reducing the population of these dogs is to reduce the availability of food waste for them. If the food waste is managed properly and not provided to these dogs, we can make a big impact in the long run and reduce their population especially in winter," he said. The state's wildlife authorities are also working with SARAH (Sikkim Anti-Rabies and Animal Health) division to sterilize these wild dogs but it is not showing quick results as only a fraction of them can be captured for the animal birth control measures. We need to scale up this sterilization drive, said Tambe. "Existing laws also prevent the culling of these dogs that are technically 'domestic' animals. You can declare certain wildlife like wild boars and monkeys as vermin but these are domestic animals and cannot be declared as such," said Tambe, who also holds the additional charge of Chief Wildlife Warden. /IANS


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