Indian street pigs are mostly not feral
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2007:
DELHI, MYSORE, BANGALORE–India easily leads the world in
numbers of street pigs, but relatively few are completely feral.
Much of the Indian domestic pig population roams the streets to
forage, loosely attended by herders who may be blocks away.
Relatively few pigs are raised in confinement, in a nation whose
upper caste Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Muslims have
traditionally shunned pork.
Historically, only what are now called the “scheduled”
castes, “tribals,” and the Christian minority ate pork. For
millennia, pig-herding was accordingly a minor and not very
profitable branch of animal husbandry. This has recently abruptly
changed. A high birth rate among “scheduled” castes, increasing
affluence among “scheduled” caste members who have pursued subsidized
education, enabling them to buy more meat, and weakening caste
barriers throughout Indian society have enabled pig herders to
rapidly expand their markets.
“Breeding pigs is big business,” The Hindu newspaper
recently explained. “Assuming that per capita consumption of pork is
one half kilogram (about one pound) per week, and that less than 5%
of the population eat pork, a city the size of Mysore would consume
26,000 pigs per year.”
Just one confinement barn may hold that many pigs in the
U.S., China, and other pork-eating nations. The pigs’ effluent
might be noticed, but the pigs themselves are not. Usually the
barns are far from any city.
Few as pigs are in India, relatively speaking, they are
increasingly visible, especially in cities where Animal Birth
Control programs encouraged by national law and subsidized by the
Animal Welfare Board of India have reduced street dog populations,
making more refuse available to pigs.
Street dogs have long been feared by many Indians because of
the risk of rabies. Dogs are still the chief vectors for rabies in
India, which still has more reported human and animal cases than the
rest of the world combined–but pigs can also carry rabies, they
deliver a stronger bite, and though street dogs continue to far
outnumber street pigs, suspicion is growing that the pigs may be far
Delhi, the Indian capital, is among the cities where ABC
programs have been underway the longest. Delhi also is among the
cities where street-dwelling pig production has most conspicuously
expanded. There is as yet no Indian national policy on street pigs,
but that could change soon as result of two attacks on children
within three days in the northwest Delhi suburb of Samaipur Badly.
On November 28, 2006, three-year-old Ajay Yadeav wandered
outdoors with his lunch, and within minutes was killed and partially
eaten by pigs. The pigs’ owner, a man named Jachche, was
reportedly held for causing death due to negligence, but the pigs
remained at large.
On November 30, 2006, a pig bit the head and shoulder of a
six-year-old, who survived.
The Hindu has been reporting similar incidents in growing
numbers, from all parts of India. For example, Pedapati Manikyam,
65, of Pedaboddepalli village, about 100 kilometres north of
Visakhapatnam, was asleep in her home on October 27, 2005, The
Hindu recounted, when two pigs belonging to local herders approached
her, and bit her right hand off when she tried to slap them away.
“The woman died due to profuse loss of blood,” The Hindu said.
But overt attacks, horrifying as they are, are much less a
threat to humans than diseases transmitted by pig parasites, insects
who breed in pig wallows, and influenza viruses for whom pigs are an
intermediary between wild waterfowl and humans.
The influenza epidemic of 1918, which killed more people in
India than anywhere else, was only the deadliest of many outbreaks
which are believed to have mutated among pigs before hitting humans.
Typically a flu strain does not become epidemic among humans
until it develops the ability to spread from human to human. A flu
strain evolving to spread from pig to pig, and then from pig to
human, is the typical precursor of a serious outbreak.
Accordingly, while the avian flu H5N1 has killed more than
150 people since 1996 who had close contact with infected poultry,
most of whom have been stricken since 2003, epidemiologists have
been most concerned about the risk of crossover to pigs, which might
occur most readily in India. Large populations of both free-roaming
pigs and humans living almost together, with poor sanitation and
inadequate health care, together form the nexus that could turn H5N1
from a scourge of poultry and occasional threat to humans into a
possible repetition of 1918, whose spread might be expedited by jet
A more immediate threat is Japanese encephalitis, carried by
mosquitoes who reproduce in liquefied pig excrement.
“Mosquitoes are held responsible for an outbreak of Japanese
encephalitis that has claimed the lives of more than 480 children in
Uttar Pradesh,” reported South China Morning Post Delhi
correspondent Amrit Dhillon in September 2005, “but pigs must share
the blame. Half a kilometre from the BRD Medical College in
Gorakhpur, where most of the victims died, low-caste Hindu families
rear pigs and live in unimaginably filthy conditions.
“The pigs are never given food or drink by their impoverished
owners,” Dhillon wrote. “Instead, the animals root among rotten
vegetable peels, mutton bones and decaying fruit on rubbish dumps,
and snort through open gutters in search of food. The pigs can be
sold for around $110 U.S., so they are both an important source of
income, and a source of the killer disease. Japanese encephalitis
has struck northern India every year since 1978,” Dhillion said.
Federal health minister Anbumani Ramdoss ordered the Uttar
Pradesh government state to move pigs out of residential areas and
away from hospitals, but the order had small chance of being
The death toll eventually rose to more than 1,000, including
about 800 in India and 200-plus in neighboring Nepal.
Uttar Pradesh director general of health O.P. Singh told
Marjorie Mason of Associated Press that vaccinating the seven million
children at risk of contracting Japanese encephalitis would cost
about $58 million. The state’s entire health budget for the year was
just $25 million.
The conditions producing the Uttar Pradesh outbreak appeared
to be more typical for India than exceptional.
At Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu, “inside the government
hospital has become an important habitat for pigs,” The Hindu
reported in March 2006. “At least 50 to 75 pigs can be seen inside
and outside the hospital,” The Hindu asserted. “Similarly, open
places at the Tamil Nadu Housing Board Colony are attracting pigs,
because drain water flowing in the colony has created six ponds in
the complex. According to a rough estimate,” the anonymous Hindu
reporter assessed, “the current pig population is around 1,500 to
The Ramanathapuram Municipal Council authorized shooting the
pigs, but there was no immediate follow-up.
In Ongole, The Hindu reported in May 2006, “70-80 persons
belonging to scheduled castes and tribes are rearing about 10,000
pigs. The trade has become so lucrative,” The Hindu alleged, “that
other castes have taken up the profession.”
After the Andhra Pradesh High Court in March 2006 ordered
Ongole to control street pigs within six months, city officials two
months later “engaged the services of 20 persons belonging to the
Nakkala community in Nellore, who have expertise to kill stray pigs
and dogs,” The Hindu said. “Carrying country-made (homemade) guns,
they went around the town killing pigs.”
No other mention of dogs was made.
“The pig rearers, who have been violating High Court orders to
confine the animals, came around and sought the mercy of the health
officials,” promising to sell the surviving pigs in Bangalore “in
the next couple of days,” The Hindu continued.
The story was similar in Shimoga, Karnataka. Shimoga city
employees began sporadic pig purges in mid-February 2005.
Predictably failing to clear the streets of pigs for long, the
Shimoga poisoning in July 2006 ran into political trouble when seven
cows were poisoned along with 450 pigs.
Meanwhile, in Hiriyur, east of Shimoga and north of
Bangalore, city officials announced a campaign against pigs, but
suspended it after the pig herders complained to a justice of the
Karnataka Lokayukta, or anti-corruption agency.
“The swine menace had reached unbearable proportions,” fumed
the Deccan Herald. “Tiny tots carrying lunch boxes to school and
housewives returning from shopping with bags of groceries were the
main targets of the pigs. There have been instances where these
animals have bitten children after chasing them for some distance.”
The Davangere municipal council in February 2005 poisoned
more than 2,000 street pigs, after three schoolchildren were bitten
by pigs in a single day.
The council, after poisoning 1,000 pigs in late 2004, “had
given a month’s deadline for the owners of the animals to take the
pigs outside the city. The deadline expired 14 days ago,” The Hindu
By March 2005, Davangere had poisoned 5,000 pigs, and had
become the model for poisoning campaigns planned in Mysore,
Hubli-Dharwad, and Raichur.
“They used zinc phosphate mixed with flour, and making it
into rolls, placed it all over the city,” Mysore administrative
task force member H.R. Bapu Satyanarayana told The Hindu. “In four
days they found 5,000 pigs lying dead.”
Other Mysore officials were much less enthusiastic. After
more than a year of repeatedly warning pig herders that free-roaming
pigs might be poisoned or shot on sight, city workers in June 2005
trucked about 25 pigs to the municipal sewage treatment plant. The
Mysore pig population meanwhile rose from about 18,000 in April 2005
to about 20,000 going into 2006.
“Nearly 200 families depend on pig rearing in the city,”
reported the Deccan Herald. “The pig owners are refusing to move
their pigs beyond the city limits, demanding basic amenities in
Confrontations over pigs commenced in Hubli-Dharwad in 2004,
when then-mayor Anilkumar Patil ordered the police to shoot
free-roaming pigs. The pig herders rallied against the shooting,
then removed their herds, temporarily. In 2006, after discussion
of shooting or poisoning pigs subsided, the pigs returned in force.
In September 2006, Hubli-Dharward health officer A.C. Swamy
“warned that criminal cases would be registered against those engaged
in rearing pigs who fail to prevent the animals from straying on
roads,” The Hindu reported. “He said all pigs straying on roads
would either be shot dead or poisoned.”
Indian national policy since Decem-ber 1997 has been to avoid
killing street dogs, but street pigs tend to be killed by any means
available, with little or no recognition that pigs who survive and
escape will then breed back up to the carrying capacity of the
But in at least one community, officials have reportedly
interpreted the national dog policy as pertaining to pigs as well.
“Hundreds of families who live on the river banks” now rear
pigs near the Budhan Sandhai marketplace, in Pallipalayam, on the
River Cauvery, reported The Hindu in August 2006. “Absence of
toilets has forced the residents to depend on the river banks. This
is an ideal situation for the pigs to grow,” The Hindu explained.
“Municipal officials say they have warned the residents many times
not to rear pigs,” The Hindu continued. “On many occasions they
have also captured the pigs. However, they released them a few days
later. Officials say they are not able to kill the pigs. They cite
a law that prevents killing animals, and they don’t have the
facilities to sterilize the captured pigs.”
An October 2006 update downsized the human population in the
primary pig habitat to 80 families, most of whom are not pig
herders. Along with others in the vicinity, The Hindu said, “they
want the civic body to construct public convenience facilities,
want bathrooms, want the municipality to clear garbage on a regular
basis and go in for solid waste management, and want the civic body
to deal with the pig menace.”
Recognizing that the street pig problem results ultimately
from deficient refuse disposal, Hyderabad municipal commissioner
Sanjay Jagu in October 2006 coupled an order to staff to remove pigs
from the streets with orders to “clear debris on a priority basis,”
and “construct public toilets to maintain hygiene,” The Hindu
“The health wing was asked to carry out door-to-door
collection of garbage by arranging tricycles, and to bring
commercial establishments under a bulk garbage removal system,” The
Hindu continued. “Jaju also requested residents to cooperate by not
dumping garbage on the roads.”