When you think of India, you tend to think of a hot, busy electric environment. If I tell you Ooty is 2240m above sea level, has an average temperature of just 14 degrees C, which was below average at around 10 degrees C when I visited, you wouldn’t believe I am talking about India.
Clouds at eye level – it was quite high up!
To get here, you travel through some of the lushest jungles, and yes the jungle book did come to mind. I was fortunate enough to be travelling in the monsoon season, where the vegetation is at its greenest and the wildlife is in abundance.
In Mudumali and Bandipur tiger reserves, I saw elephants, axis deer, bison, and tons of bonnet macaques – but unfortunately no tigers – next time!
Note – do not leave your windows open in the these reserves – a certain macaque became well aquatinted with the steering wheel and gear stick of ours, before eventually making his way back to the tree – slightly hair raising experience for those still stuck in the car!
There are plenty of things to do in the area, I spent most of my free time going back to the tiger reserves, being a bit of a wildlife junkie, but I also visited an amazing tea factory, (I hate tea but even I liked the lemon black tea here!), a chocolate factory, and spent time wandering the streets of Ooty, buying handcrafted souvenirs and eating very tasty food – I am very much a biryani fan now!
We also went on various walks up and down the roads and around the local community – interesting after dark with no street lights and oncoming traffic, but worth it for the views, and to meet the local cows!
The tea plantation opposite our accommodation provided a great opportunity for scrabbling up a steep hill and exploring the countryside, after seeing tons of wild bison we were gently informed by a local man that a bear is resident in the area and has killed a man before – its safe to say we got down the hill a lot quicker than we had ascended!
But why was I in Ooty?
This hill station, situated in Tamil Nadu, is home to the Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) animal birth control (ABC) clinic, and animal hospital. The project is also supported by the Dogs Trust.
The ABC clinic at WVS provides a vital service in neutering dogs which are stray, or owned by communities or individuals in the province of Tamil Nadu. As a clinical years veterinary student, I travelled to India to assist with this project and also to assist with vaccinating dogs against rabies in the local community at the weekend, and providing treatment to other animals who came to the clinic – including an injured horse, a calf and a goat!
This work is vital to ensure the numbers of stray dogs in India remain stable, and the level of rabies is controlled and hopefully one day eradicated in the population of both dogs and humans.
A massive 36% of all rabies deaths in the world occur in India, and most human deaths occur as a result of a bite from an infected dog, with 30-60% of the victims being children <15 years old.
For me, it was incredibly rewarding seeing the owners delight when their dog was returned to them healthy from surgery, and when you vaccinated their animal and told them it was against rabies, or seeing animals who arrived in a terrible state looking much happier and comfortable at the end of their stay.
Walking around the local villages there were dogs everywhere. It was madness I don’t think I had ever seen this many dogs in one area. In just one afternoon we vaccinated over 100 dogs!
The problem is that you could never tell if the animal had owners, in a few cases we went to peoples houses, but most people allow their dogs to roam during the day, and they come home in the evening for food. Some dogs are owned by local communities collectively, with people taking it in turns to feed the animal, and others are simply strays who mingle with the semi-owned population.
The animals with owners are taken to the ABC clinic with the permission of their owners, many of whom come to watch the surgery, and those that aren’t, are taken to the clinic and then returned 2 days post operatively, as long as they are healthy enough to do so, back to the same spot they were taken from, to ensure they are in familiar territories and if they were owned by a community, then they are returned to them.
The project has done amazing things for the local community, reducing the incidence of rabies in the immediate area to virtually zero, with virtually no clinical cases reported over the last few years, controlling the dog population and also building the trust of local people who now routinely bring their animals to the clinic for healthcare. It has also trained hundreds of local veterinarians from all over India, who are now competent to set up ABC clinics in their own villages and further reduce the spread of rabies and work towards its eradication.
If you want to know more about WVS and the work they do then check out their website here: https://wvs.org.uk
*Update – extracts of this blog post have now been published on WVS website, check it out here: https://wvs.org.uk/news/dogs-and-wildlife-in-abundance-a-vet-student-in-ooty