Follow Us:
Friday, July 20, 2018

Dogged pursuit

Mumbai’s sterilisation drive is now a smartphone app as the country’s first-ever high-tech stray dog population estimation stays the course.

Mumbai | Updated: January 18, 2014 11:15:39 pm

For one week beginning January 8, they were a regular sight in many parts of Mumbai early in the morning. For two hours from 5.15 am onwards, five teams of two would set out tailing their objects on five motorcycles, smartphones ready, looking into alleys and garbage dumps, around corners, under street lamps or parked vehicles. Sometimes their perseverance was returned with friendly sniffs or indignant or confused stares, at other times with annoyed growls or bared teeth. Meant to cover 20 per cent of the city’s streets in five weeks, the team’s efforts were part of the city’s first ever high-tech stray dog population estimation, organised by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
The motorbikes would roar to life outside a hotel in Andheri (East). The teams, comprising a veterinarian and volunteer, would then set out on a pre-determined route along a 30-km track even as the city largely slept. Their goal was not to just count the dog numbers, but with the help of the vet on board, their type. Once this was done, the team recorded the dog’s type on a smartphone app called OpenStreetMap tracker.
Post 9 am, two other teams set out on foot for Dharavi, King’s Circle and other such areas with a high population density of dogs and narrow bylanes.
Once the data for a particular dog was recorded on a smartphone, the OpenStreetMap tracker assimilated it with the name of the track where it was seen, its GPS location, the time it was spotted and its type, plotting it all on a city map to determine density. The tracks drawn out for Mumbai using Google Maps went towards forming a blueprint, to henceforth serve as a baseline protocol for future monitoring programmes.
As officials explained, following last week’s exercise, now all they would need to do is zoom in on a dog’s photo through the app. “Vets or agencies will identify it with all its details for follow-up of sterilisation and vaccination or treatment, and return it to the correct area,” says Lex Hiby, a population biologist from the UK, who was an advisor on the population estimation exercise.
For the first time in India, the team claimed, OpenStreetMap tracker and Google Maps were used during such a survey.
Mumbai has seven sterilisation centres. Dogs caught by BMC and NGOs are sterilised and vaccinated at these centres, including for rabies twice a year.
In 2012, the number of dog bites recorded in Mumbai was 82,274. Till November 2013, the number stood at 67,779, according to the Public Health Department.
Abodh Aras of The Welfare of Stray Dogs said that until seven years ago, NGOs would tattoo a sterilised dog on the inner part of its thigh. Owing to the difficulty this posed in identification of a sterilised dog later, officials and volunteers took to notching their ears instead.
According to Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), parts of Mumbai, Goa, Chennai, Jaipur and Sikkim have done better in controlling the stray dog population.
Gujarat-based Humane Society International, conducting the survey on behalf of the BMC, has carried out similar exercises in Srinagar, Jamshedpur, Mauritius, Bhutan and Malawi. Indian dogs, their verdict, are the friendliest. According to team leader Dr Amit Chaudhari, this could be because Indians generally have a cordial relationship with strays, feeding and taking care of them.
“In Europe, one does not find roaming dogs that are not tethered. Here the dogs have evolved to survive with community support,” says Hiby.
Apart from the five veterinarians (two from Gujarat, one from Jammu, one from Jaipur, and Hiby), the team included two ‘paravets’ from Ahmedabad, and seven local volunteers from different NGOs in Mumbai. They were paid on a daily basis apart from the fuel charges. The budget was Rs 9.5 lakh.
Hiby acknowledges that five weeks for a mega city like Mumbai are not enough. “Survey time was short. No light until 7 am did affect the chances of seeing dogs, but we couldn’t do it any other time as rush hour begins almost immediately after 9 am,” Hiby says. As for covering just 20 per cent of the city street length, he said this gives a good estimate of the dog numbers as tracks were revisited and the counts were found to be consistent.
Sharing their experiences, team leader Dr Piyush Patel laughs, “We moved slowly and kept repeating our routes. This behaviour sometimes piqued the interest of local cops, who stopped a team at least three-four times assuming them to be chain snatchers targeting morning walkers.”
According to the vets, most dogs in the city were friendly, but some fiercely guarded their territory. “Our foot surveys were in areas where dogs are used to having people around and they did not chase us. During the morning surveys, we were mostly on the bike,” adds Patel.
He also remembers spotting three lactating females with 20 puppies in Andheri (West), all healthy and even obese. He learned that local shopkeepers had come up with a feeding routine for them. “They provided them good food, not just leftovers, ” he says.

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App