Sunday, March 11, 2018

Use Urban Leopards to Stop Rabies in India?

The rest of the world vaccinates, spay-neuters, and rounds up and kills stray dogs, but some folks in India are arguing that that nation's solution to rabies is... wait for it... urban leopards.

A little background: It's estimated that 30 million stray dogs live in India, where about 20,000 people a year die of rabies, almost all of it contracted from stray dogs.

That's where the leopards come in.

About 40 percent of the average Indian leopard’s diet consists of feral or stray dogs.

A population of 35 urban leopards in Mumbai, researchers estimate, "may consume about 1,500 dogs per year, saving around 1,000 bite incidents and 90 potential rabies cases.” The presence of leopards was also estimated to save $18,000 in dog management costs.

Of course, leopards are not without their costs.

 In 2017, there were seven leopard attacks in the Mumbai area.  Even if all of those leopard attacks were fatal, however, urban leopards would still represent a net gain in human life.

Of course, the case can be made that the simply catching, drowning, poisoning, and shooting as many feral dogs as possible, while providing free vaccination to as many pet dogs as possible, is the most obvious way forward. 

Which it is.  

That said, every leopard attack around Mumbai gets a tremendous amount of fear-driven media coverage.  Perhaps it's time for a little more attention to be given to the upside of urban big cats? 

After all the data suggests that, taken as a whole, they are doing more good than harm.

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