Smartphones to help track city’s stray dog population

Teams of vets and volunteers will scour city streets, click pictures of the animals and collate data through apps.

Mumbai | Published: January 7, 2014 4:01 pm
The teams will categorise dogs with the help of an app. The teams will categorise dogs with the help of an app.

Mumbai’s first hi-tech stray dog population estimation survey will have teams of veterinarians and local volunteers on motorbikes, traversing the city along designated `tracks’, and clicking pictures over the next five weeks. Armed with digital cameras and smartphones, seven teams will track strays for the survey commencing Tuesday.
The survey is being carried out by Humane Society International, an NGO working for animal welfare, on behalf of the civic body. This year, smartphone applications will replace the traditional method of noting down the number of stray dogs spotted on paper, without providing exact locations or photographs.
Using the Google Maps app, the NGO has created 25 to 30-km tracks of streets in each ward for their ‘strip transact’ method of population estimation.
Starting 6 am, the teams will record strays along their designated ‘tracks’. Using the GPS-enabled OSM (OpenStreetMap) Tracker app, the team will record each dog spotted, and place them in categories such as male notched (operated upon) or unnotched, female notched or unnotched, female lactating, and pups by a simple click of an icon on their smartphones. “These apps make the survey more error-free. This method is quicker than noting down the type on paper. With the GPS, we can record the exact location of the dog,” said Lex Hiby, a population biologist from the UK who is advising the NGO in this survey.
Information such as the number of lactating females will help the team know about the timeline of the breeding season. With a software modified by Hiby, the number of dogs will be calculated using the Lincoln-Peterson Index, a formula used for population estimation.
The same area will be surveyed again for the next three days from 6 am to 9 am to reduce the error margin. “In a vast city like Mumbai, it is impossible to count all the dogs. We can only track dogs during the morning hours when the traffic is the least,” said Dr Amit Chaudhari, team leader of the survey. “Travelling by bike helps us also track dogs that may try to run away.”
This estimation report will also include information about the number of dogs per km, and have a baseline protocol by saving the tracks for future monitoring programmes.
Post the morning session, a team led by Hiby will click photos of stray dogs with distinct features such as long hair or tails with a distinct white marking. Over the next two-three days, the team will try and ‘re-spot’ the dogs, a method that will provide information about visibility of dogs in an area and the population density. “Just population estimation doesn’t provide useful information, so we will provide dog density as well. This information is more relevant to residents as well as monitoring agencies, as it helps in knowing whether the number has gone up or down in the area when checked again,” added Hiby.
This ‘shoot and record’ method has replaced the otherwise-accepted method of painting dogs during a survey. Dr Chaudhari said in a congested city like Mumbai, it could be hard to carry a big spraying machine.
The BMC has allotted Rs 9 lakh for the survey, according to an official. “This survey will help us in planning future animal birth control programmes and assess the effectiveness of sterilisation and vaccination programmes,” said the official.
anjali.lukose@expressindia.com

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