Feral Dogs in Keoladeo National Park

Sarus Cranes in Keoladeo National Park
Sarus Cranes in Keoladeo National Park

Ever seen a live animal hunt? Like the one they show on National Geographic or Discovery where a pack of highly focused and hungry animals with saliva drooling all over their face (which by the way dramatizes the entire episode completely when shot in slo-mo), chase or circle an animal and finally take it down? Well, if you want to see this event, then you don't have to go all the way to Africa or even Ranthambore Tiger Reserve or Nagarhole National Park. 

You can see this live action right here in Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur (1 hour drive from Agra) for INR 75 per person if you're Indian and INR 400 per person if you're a foreigner. This entry ticket price includes camera fee! Why bother paying thousands for a jungle safari when you can see stunning wildlife moments for the price of a Mc Donald's meal just a moments drive from the Taj Mahal. 

Mallard (male) in Keoladeo National Park
Mallard (male) in Keoladeo National Park

So here is what happened. On December 2, 2018, a few of us visited the world famous Keoladeo National Park for a day of bird watching. Sure, we saw lots of migratory birds and got plenty of photographs but the highlight of the trip was not the Mallard, Dusky Horned Owl nesting, Marsh Harriers swooping over pin tails or the Sarus and Common Cranes or even the Pelicans and Flamingos, it was rather a pack of feral dogs hunting down spotted deer (chital)! Clearly feral dogs are a menace in Keoladeo National Park. 

What went down in a matter of minutes was a stunning account of events which many of us only hear but rarely get to see first hand. While walking on one of the nature trails on the right side of the main road that splits the National Park in two, all of a sudden our group heard a loud commotion and calls from a bunch of spotted deer who were running towards us from the marshes. It was only a few seconds later that we realized that the deer was not coming to greet us and be photographed but rather they were running for their lives for what was chasing them was death! 

Misty Morning at Keoladeo National Park
Misty Morning at Keoladeo National Park

In the video above you will see at least two feral dogs running behind a herd of spotted deer but I am sure there were more behind the bushes. These feral dogs had been successful in breaking up the herd in two thus creating confusion and eventually bringing down their target.

Greater Spotted Eagle in Keoladeo National Park
Greater Spotted Eagle in Keoladeo National Park

It comes as a big surprise to me when I see feral dogs that were once domesticated, act as a cohesive hunting pack. I am used to seeing strays run for their lives with their tails between their legs at the slightest of altercation but seeing them hunt prey 2x their size, much faster and nimble and swimming with such agility is a rare moment. Moreover, seeing them hunt a wild animal in the first place is shocking as I thought that they are complacent from all the scraps, leftovers and dump yards created by humans. 

Bronze Winged Jacana (Female) in Keoladeo National Park
Bronze Winged Jacana (Female) in Keoladeo National Park

This pack of feral dogs did end up taking a young deer down and although I could not capture it in the video as this happened behind dense vegetation, the dying sounds of the victim resonated in the forests for a few minutes. I would also like to mention that it was probably the same pack of dogs that caused a huge ruckus amongst the birds as we saw several of them fly off in panic. The ones that I identified included the Common Crane, Greylag Geese, Bar-headed Geese and other water fowl that I could not identify as they were at a distance from where we were standing.

raptors of Keoladeo National Park
Marsh Harrier in Keoladeo National Park

Once I got back home, I messaged and called my friends who are currently or have been associated with wildlife in various capacities and they mentioned that feral dogs hunting wild animals and birds was a common sight and is a massive problem not just in Bharatpur but also several other places across India. Any number of programs such as relocating, sterlization or terminating aimed at curbing this menace have met with widespread resistance and criticism by the villagers and animal rights activists. I even wrote an email to the Divisional Forest Officer and other members of the Rajasthan Forest Department but have not yet got a response from them.

So how do we protect our resident animals and birds especially the migratory birds who fly thousands of miles to our country escaping poaching, starvation, rough climatic conditions only to be caught in the feeding frenzy of a feral dog? 

Last night, I dreamt I saw a leopard in Keoladeo National Park....go figure!

Checklist of birds and mammals seen on December 2, 2018:

  • Mallard (male)
  • Dusky Horned Owl (female)
  • Spotted owlet
  • Greylag geese
  • Bar-headed geese
  • Common Crane
  • Sarus crane
  • Pelican
  • Lesser Flamingo
  • Lesser whistling duck
  • Coot
  • Comb duck
  • Northern Pintail
  • Bronze winged Jacana
  • White throated kingfisher
  • Purple sunbird
  • Common myna
  • Jungle crow
  • Wagtails
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Painted Stork
  • Spoonbill
  • Egret (all three)
  • Cormorant
  • Black headed Ibis
  • Pond heron
  • Purple heron
  • Dater bird
  • Red Munia
  • Plum headed parakeet
  • Rose ringed parakeet
  • Bluethroat
  • Ashy Prinia
  • Plain Prinia
  • Greater Spotted Eagle
  • Indian Kite
  • Shikra
  • Marsh harrier
  • Crested Serpent Eagle
  • Egyptian Vulture
  • Red vented bulbul
  • White cheeked bulbul
  • Jungle babbler
  • Pied myna
  • Water hen
  • Purple moorhen
  • Indian peafowl
  • Red naped Ibis
  • Lesser flameback woodpecker
  • Yellow crowned woodpecker
  • Stilts
  • Black redstart
  • Indian robin
  • Brown rock chat
  • Tailor bird
  • Greater Coucal
  • Grey Francolin
  • Spotted deer (chital)
  • Sambhar deer
  • Nil Gai (Blue Bull)
  • Jackal
  • Indian Softshell Turtle