Kolkata, Oct 25: What has the Swachh Bharat campaign got to do with dogs? Well, Indian experts have found that managing how garbage is dumped and handled can help in controlling the population of strays in urban areas.
While dog lovers have a way with free-ranging dogs or strays, for the municipal authorities and health management officials, it's a problem of plenty: more dogs mean more littering and the risk of rabies spreading.
Behavioural biologist Anindita Bhadra, who works on the behaviour and ecology of stray dogs, says her research has shown street dogs are essentially scavengers and extremely capable of selectively sniffing out meat protein in garbage bins.
"Hence, in order to manage dog populations on streets, it is essential to manage garbage, and ensure that there are no open bins and garbage dumps within city limits," Bhadra, founding chairperson of the Indian National Young Academy of Science (INYAS), told IANS over the phone from Mohanpur in West Bengal.
Bhadra and her team of student researchers showed through innovative methods like the "chicken smell" experiment that strays will virtually go for anything that smells meaty, irrespective of the nutrient content.
"While the food provided by humans is dominated by carbohydrates, food obtained through foraging attempts is rich in animal proteins.
"So, the dogs display a tendency to selectively feed on protein-rich sources of food through scavenging, compensating for the lack of hunting for meat," she explained.
Thus, they will rummage through whatever they find on streets.
Now, factor in the threat of rabies.
India accounts for 20,000 of the 45,000 deaths in the world due to rabies every year but taking dogs off the streets is not a solution, felt Bhadra, who has been spearheading studies on the relationship between dogs and humans.
"The way we do population control in India in pockets doesn't help because they migrate a lot. The best way would be to go for the comprehensive long-term animal birth control procedure. But in India we don't follow that as it's time consuming and expensive," she said.
Moreover, in the ongoing breeding season, the streets have literally gone to the dogs, what with strays actively engaging in mating rituals, protecting pups and defending territories - and in the process, leaving scraps of litter on streets.
"There is a lot of activity and interactions among them during the breeding season compared to the non-breeding period; so you tend to see more littering," the researcher said.
But the meat of the matter is, stressed Bhadra, that if you want clean roads, you'd better manage and recycle your own waste.
"Make sure the waste is inaccessible to dogs. Protocols could be drawn up to ensure garbage is dumped at specific locations," she added.
The study was published online in the Ethology, Ecology and Evolution journal. The other contributors to the study are from the Thiruvananthapuram and Bhopal branches of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) and the Asian University for Women, Chittagong.