Recently a US citizen got bitten by a street dog in India and died. When things like that happen, there’s often an uproad – kill the dogs…kill them all! Well, some try to sound logical about it – “it’s sad, we know. But don’t be emotional about it. It’s time we do something”. What is that “something” they advocate? Back to “Kill them all!”. Well, if were indeed to take a non-emotional approach to it, then we must consider the evidence that we have before us on what solution WILL actually work for us and time and there is no dearth of evidence to suggest that killing all the animals does not work. It never has and never does, at least not without consequence. And I am not making an emotional appeal here. Far from it, culling is the ONLY solution that has the least scientific backing. Well, read on…

…Far from it, culling is the ONLY solution that has the least scientific backing…

Mass culling of free ranging animals has time and again led to drastic change in urban populations. Consider the following examples from this article from Animal People Forum:

  • Fiji, Taiwan, Malaysia – all of them saw lepto outbreaks after mass destruction of street dogs
  • China saw a similar increase after mass killing of snakes.
  • Closer home consider the 1994  plague outbreak in Surat, India. Experts believe that this incident was an indirect and undesirable effect of mass destruction of street dogs preceding a natural calamity

What do you suppose may be going on here? The explanation may be found in a benign phrase called, “the holding capacity of an ecosystem”.


The holding capacity of an ecosystem is it’s ability to sustain life. In most Indian cities, this capacity is provided by the garbage, which supports life around it, mostly that of dogs and cows. However when the one population is suddenly reduced, that capacity of the ecosystem rapidly increases and often another species will take it’s place, in all of the examples above – rats. Natural calamities then bring us in contact with dead and live rats, which then start the epidemic in humans.

…when the one population is suddenly reduced, that capacity of the ecosystem rapidly increases and often another species will take it’s place, in all of the examples above – rats…

I read a recent news article that suggests that it’s not the rats but the dogs and cows that live in closer proximity to us that caused the Kerala outbreak. However, the data above suggests otherwise and the explanation offered by Dr. S. Chinny Prakash gives us a better picture of what might be going on. While both dogs and rats can be carriers of leptospirosis, pet dogs are often vaccinated and street dogs rarely make it into our kitchens. Things brought from the market are almost always cooked. Rats, however, not only have access to our fruits and food in shops, but also climb drains and can make it all the way into our kitchen too and are far more likely to defecate on our food. This explanation now tells us why Surat, Kerala, China, Fiji, Malaysia and Taiwan are seeing increased leptospirosis in humans following mass destruction of dogs and snakes.

Further consider the following examples:

  • This study clearly ties increased leptospirosis in Marseille, France after heavy rains to rats The place does not even have street dogs and the study clearly shows it’s the rats that are giving humans the disease.
  • China, which is supposed to be much better at destroying it’s street dog population still reports a million cases of leptospirosis annually. India reports less than 10,000 and while this is perhaps a gross misrepresentation, if the dogs were the issue, how does one explain what China sees?

Apart from an impact on communicable diseases and other species that are part of the ecosystem, culling programs can also impact behaviour of the entire dog population, and not in a desirable way. In this article from August 2015, I discussed how the dog population management strategy of Kerala was going to increase human-dog conflict due to the population getting shaped into a more wary and reactive one.

…Apart from an impact on communicable diseases culling programs can also impact behaviour of the entire dog population, and not in a desirable way…

More recently, I have been in conversation with people from other parts of the world that have street dogs, but have taken to the route of destroying these dogs. They still do have street dogs, but they are skittish and wary of humans, which increases probability of human-animal conflict. Most people who interact with street dogs in Bangalore know that “wary of humans” is hardly a term you’d use for them. Most are super friendly and trusting, sometimes to their detriment. And just a rudimentary understanding of animal behaviour will tell you that of course, where animals are persecuted by man, they all develop fear of man. BUT…that does not mean they leave the premises entirely, like rats. They just learn to scurry away and bite.

Mass destruction programs not only lead to possible risk of epidemics and increase in man-animal conflict, but it’s just not known to work. In 1964, Blue Cross India, studied this situation and it was revealed that the Madras Corporation had been running an unsuccessful catch and kill program for over a hundred years! The program was eventually replaced after the Blue Cross study revealed ineffectiveness of the program.

…Mass destruction programs are just not known to work. The Madras Corporation’s unsuccessful catch and kill program that ran for over a 100 years was replaced after a Blue Cross study revealed ineffectiveness of the program…

While all of the above studies show the ineffectiveness and dangers of mass destruction programs, in the Nilgiris, the street dog population was stabilised and rabies was eradicated The World Wide Veterinary Service, India (article). Similarly, Help In Suffering-India, managed to bring down the incidences of rabies to zero in the places that they were operating in between 1994-2002, whilst the incidences of rabies in other parts of the city were actually rising (report). Blue Cross had far more success with it’s ABC program than the Madras Corporation had with it’s mass culling program.

That brings us to the following questions:
1. Why do we continue to ask for a solution that has not only shown no success in our environment and only known to worsen the issue?
2. When we have so many instance of successful handling of the issue, why are we not insisting on replicating THAT model?

“Kill them all!”, is an emotional reaction to the issue. A more sensible way to go about it is to pay attention to the evidence and pay a bit of attention to animal behaviour. We are a bit better than, “you bit me, so I bite you back” kinda species right? The right answer, it seems, looking at evidence:

  1. Better ABC
  2. Better ARV
  3. Education citizens

Do we have the calm to ask for the right solution, instead of sensationalizing the reporting AND the solution?

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