Let's create a safe haven for IIT Madras animals
(aka the stray dog issue in IITM)
(P.S. Yes, animals also includes birds, insects and of course humans)
Oct 18, 2020
Why am I writing this now? Recently, I came across a change petition titled "IIT Madras should stop torturing the stray dogs in their campus" , addressed to PETA, Member of Parliament, Sultanpur Maneka Gandhi, amongst others. I have lived almost my entire life (about two decades, in the vicinity of the IITM campus, and have spent ample time with people there who deeply care about animals. My initial thoughts was that, wow, that is a very interesting accusation pointed at an academic institution, which portrays it in quite a Diabolic manner, making it seem like everyone in IIT Madras hates dogs. No, a lot of people love pets, dogs are super friendly, and cats are cute & purr-fect.
So, it was surprising to a change petition claiming that IITM is torturing dogs. In the link was posted a video, it shows two people, capturing a dog using nets, definitely torturing it, manhandling it and the poor dog does seem struggling. Before you read further, it is important to acknowledge that, THE BEHAVIOUR PORTRAYED IN THE VIDEO IS CLEARLY UNACCEPTABLE. NO BEING SHOULD BE TREATED IN SUCH A MANNER.
Having established that, the petition goes on to state the following :
"They are caged and underfed. They are locked off in an area where we are not allowed to visit them...IIT Madras refuses to explain to the animal lovers in campus what they intend to do to the captured dogs. We, the animal lovers have been banned from feeding dogs. Caring for stray animals is a fundamental duty that the constitution has given us. IIT Madras is denying us from performing this."
These are essentially a string of accusations, that lack clarity or any support material, and more importantly on what needs to be done. We do not see what and how things needs to be changed.
A first read leaves the reader with an opinion - "OMG! Yes, these dogs needs to be saved!!".
"Yes absolutely! Of course. This is not right"
A rational second read at the petition, however, leaves one with so many questions.
"Yes. These dogs need to be saved. But then rings all the questions"
Who are these people in the video? Do they actually represent the INSTITUTION OF IIT MADRAS?
Why are they capturing stray dogs? Is it just for sadistic fun of torturing them? Is there any other motive?
There needs to be more light shed on the issue raised by the petition, and most certainly it needs to be "De-Polarized". So first off, IIT MADRAS DOES NOT HATE ANIMALS.
To understand this issue more, one needs to understand the unique ecosystem of IIT Madras. IITM campus is not just your regular college campus. It is sort of a mini-forest within a metropolitan city, featuring over 100 species of birds, 40 species of butterflies, a lake that once used to have crocodiles and also home to species that are uncommon in surrounding regions, including the Spotted deer, the famous blackbuck, and the Monkey (Bonnet Macaque). It is to be noted that, Blackbucks, are categorized globally as a species of least concern. However, in India, it is an endangered species, placed in schedule-I (top priority) under the Indian Wildlife act, 1972. Humans co-habiting with such a unique eco-system is challenging.
IITM campus is a closed campus, meaning visitors to the campus, without a valid purpose is restricted. However the increasing academic accomplishments of the campus, has called for rapidly expanding and growing campus community, and facilities. The emergence, and the presence of various eateries in campus, leads to stray food lying around. And it is not uncommon to see dogs, monkeys, and spotted deers feeding of these.
Dogs get the likes of humans, and get fed by them. Monkeys, go to the extend of careful planning and snatching food from humans, as well as from dustbins. ( P.S. Monkeys do this, to such an extent that, EVERY YEAR a fair amount IITM freshmen develop prototypes of monkey-proof dustbins with mechanisms that are hard for monkeys to understand and operate. But these usually are deciphered by monkeys by the time the next set of freshmen come, and projects begin afresh.)
However, this is not necessarily the same in case of species such as blackbucks (which are less versatile). They rely on grasslands and low height shrubs for their food. They feed, breed and live in the grasslands. They are timid of human contact, and try to stay away from them. They are fragile enough, that they are best left alone. More details of these can be found here - Prakriti Blackbuck
In the recent years, there has been a noted increase in the presence of stray dogs into the campus. Campus provides a safe haven for them; lack of heavy vehicular traffic, presence of free space and availability of food options due to numerous eateries on campus, as well as friendly students feeding them. These stray dogs are often friendly to humans, and even have some favorites among students, who feed them often. As goes the saying "Feed a dog for 3 days, they will remember you for 3 years." This may also be a cause for the increased influx of stray dogs on campus.
Now, here comes the problem with stray dogs. As the count of stray dogs expands, some of their natural characteristics pose a threat for co-habitance with other species of the campus community, especially the deers and black bucks.
Unlike domesticated dogs, stray dogs retain their nature: They are pack animals, and are also territorial to some extent. And unlike domesticated dogs, sometimes their predatory instincts takes over. It is not uncommon for anyone on campus to see a dog chasing a fast moving object such as a car, bicyclist, especially at night. While, humans are smart, and can chase away a single dog. A pack of stray dogs, can however pose a threat to them, especially if they are aggressive.
But keeping humans aside for another day, the stray dog packs tend to chase deer and blackbucks, and sometimes even kill them. Blackbucks and deers are especially in danger during the fawning season, because the stray dog packs tend to attack fawns in their habitat. The clash between stray dogs and deers are not uncommon - link1(Dogs and deers do not mix) link2 (google search can yield more).
There have been numerous cases within IIT Madras too, attaching a google doc below here of mail conversations with Prakriti (IITM Nature club) as well as images showing the injuries. A huge shoutout to Prof. Susy Varughese and other members of Prakriti, for posting these in email threads, despite their busy academic schedules.
Though these are compiled from 2018, and I have access to records of such incidents since 2012, and would be happy to furnish those on request. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org .
GRAPHIC CONTENT ADVISORY: Images of injured / dead animals are present in this compilation - https://docs.google.com/document/d/1AprJtlEj3SALQT4brePpwkGmtRaFBu6uK-nn4FOsRlA
These incidents indicate that something has to be done about stray dogs on campus. At the same time, stray dogs are also not to be blamed with entirety, as they are just acting as per their natural instincts. It would be unfair, and unacceptable to make them go through a brutality such as that shown in the video posted in the link. So what is the solution to this problem?
The solutions I am listing here are not necessarily novel. Infact, some of these are already being done at IIT Madras, as you read.
Night patrol by groups of students, around campus; To shoo away stray dog packs (only) when they are seen chasing a deer. This is already happening, and Prakriti has a guidelines docs for the same. NightPatrol.pdf
Sterilization and immunization of stray dogs on campus (already being done to some extent on campus)
Most importantly, Yes! Feeding dogs makes them less hungry. But caring and loving them means doing much more than that. For all we know, they might get injured by moving vehicles, construction sites etc,. As a Dog lover myself, I feel that it is important to ensure Dogs and other stray animals require a secure place, with access to food, free space to move around and loving people.
This calls for a need for the establishment of something like a Dog Shelter, either on campus or outside. This can provide a safe space for the stray dogs to be in company of other dogs, be trained, be taken care of, as well as be adopted into loving families (who would not just feed and let go) . It is important to push for such changes to be done and funded by the IITM Administration.
The change petition brings to light an important issue. But it does so in a polarized manner and seems to stop at a mere accusation. It misrepresents the IITM institution as a whole.
It is important for a change petition, to present an issue in its entirety, as well as suggest potential solutions for the same.
Many of us (including me) love dogs. But our love for dogs should not blind us towards the harm done by the stray dogs to the life of other living species on campus.
With these points in mind, let's work towards creating a safe haven for all IIT Madras animals.
Edit (Oct 19, 2020) : After posting the above, I was referred to a couple of prime post articles that covers these in a greater detail.