Bombay dogs, dancing bears
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1998:
MUMBAI (Bombay)– – Mumbai
civic health committee chair Sardar Tara Singh
announced on August 3 that after four years of
strict no-kill animal control, meaning no dogkilling
whatever, the city will resume killing
diseased dogs and dogs who bite––but only in
response to formal complaints about specific
dogs, and only by lethal injection. Singh stipulated
that Mumbai would not resume the former
practice of electrocuting stays. This
would bring the Mumbai no-kill policy into
conformity with the practice of San Francisco,
the largest no-kill city in the United States.
Singh said resumed killing was necessary
because, “Municipal hospitals have
reported over 60,000 bites in the past year.”
Though few of the bites were serious in themselves,
most free-roaming dogs in India are
unvaccinated, and all bites are therefore considered
potentially fatal if the victims fail to
report for post-exposure anti-rabies treatment.
Mumbai has approximately 14 million
human residents, just under the 14.5 million
population of Florida, which has a similar
climate and also has endemic rabies. Florida
animal control agencies received 43,787 bite
complaints in 1996, according to the Florida
Animal Control Association––12 more than
the total number of Florida dog impoundments.
However, while barely 10% of the
Florida dogs are caught running at large in a
year, an estimated 100,0000 to 300,0000
Mumbai street dogs run at large all the time.
The Mumbai policy change was
opposed by Satnam Ahuja, head of the
Bombay animal rescue group Ahimsa, who
recalled past cases involving dogcatchers who
demanded bribes to refrain from capturing and
killing pets. At least three dogcatchers lost
their jobs when caught seeking bribes by the
civic Anti-Corruption Bureau.
The policy change was issued while
Ahimsa was preoccupied with establishing a
sanctuary outside Bombay for 12 former dancing
bears, underwritten by Texas sanctuarians
Bonny and Ratilal N. Shah. Defanged and
declawed, the bears cannot be returned to the
wild. Ahimsa was also actively trying to discourage
the widespread abuse of snakes during
Nagpanchami, the annual festival in honor of
the Hindu snake god Nagoba. Traditionally,
snakes are captured, defanged, and held in
clay jars hung from trees until the festival day,
when they are given milk and released.
“Not only is the defanging extremely
painful,” said activist Sudnya Patkar, “but it
also results in accumulation of venom in the
glands, until they burst in about three
months.” Then, since snakes don’t actually
drink milk, the milk poured down their throats
often drowns them, or leads to lung infections,
killing 60,000 to 70,000 snakes per year
according to World Wildlife Fund data.
Sand boas suffer even more, as vendors
burn the tips of their tails off to create
snakes which appear to have heads at either
end, commanding a higher price from the
The Haffkine Institute reportedly
partially blames Nagpanchami snake-killing
for the annual loss of up to 26% of India’s
grain production to rats.
Ahimsa reportedly confiscated 13
sand boas, black cobras, and rat snakes from
the vicinity of the Babulnath temple, taking
them to the Ahima hospital at Malad for rehabilitation.
Upon recovery they are to be
released into the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
[Donations to help Ahimsa build the
sanctuary for the rescued bears are welcomed
by the Jiv Daya Committee, c/o R.N. Shah,
1718 E. Jeter Road, Bartonville, TX 76226.
The work of Jiv Daya is well known to A N IMAL