Friday, May 25, 2018

Killer Dogs Take 14 Lives. Did Closing Slaughterhouses Play a Role? - NYT

Killer Dogs Take 14 Lives. Did Closing Slaughterhouses Play a Role? By Jeffrey Gettleman and Hari Kumar,  May 22, 2018 NYT

Residents of Gurpaliya village in Uttar Pradesh, India, searching for dogs that have been attacking, and killing, children with alarming frequency. Locals blame the closing of slaughterhouses, which were a source of scraps for dogs.

KHAIRABAD, India — On a recent evening just a few minutes before the sun went down, Sahreen Bano, a 10-year-old girl, walked into a sugar cane field to urinate before going to bed. A pack of wild dogs was waiting for her.
The dogs formed a tight ring and then closed in, pulling her down as one dog’s teeth sank into her neck. She screamed. Nearby farmers dashed in as fast as they could, rocks, sticks and hoes in their hands, yelling at the top of their lungs.
Sahreen now lies on a hospital cot, a brown, bloodstained bandage wrapped around her neck like a scarf, eyes fluttering, most likely out of danger.
But the attack on Sahreen was not an isolated event. At least 14 children have been mauled to death by dog packs around Khairabad in recent months.
Khairabad is one of those little towns, off a highway in northern India, that prosperity and hope seem to have skipped over. The houses are small and smothered in dust; the villagers thin and poor. Most are farmers, many are Muslim, and on this terrifying dog menace, they blame politicians — specifically the Hindu-right politicians whose zeal to protect cows, they say, may have created killer dogs.
Last year, a new Hindu-right government, led by Yogi Adityanath, a monk who is one of India’s most divisive figures, was swept into power in this state, Uttar Pradesh. Mr. Adityanath built his career by pushing a Hindu-supremacist agenda and demonizing Muslims.
A 13-year-old girl in Sitapur District Hospital with her mother after she was attacked by dogs in Barabhari village.
One of the first things he did as Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister was shut down most of the state’s slaughterhouses, scores of them.
The stated reason was that many were operating illegally. But residents are convinced that the yogi and others in his political party wanted to wipe out the meat industry in order to protect cows, a sacred animal in Hinduism. That many Muslims had been employed in the meat industry may also have been attractive to him and to some of his Hindu-supremacist followers.
But another consequence was the stray dogs. And nothing — not increased police patrols, high-level visits, a surveillance drone or a dog vigilante squad that employs macabre tactics — has been able to stop the attacks.
Last Wednesday afternoon, minutes after another young girl was mauled in a mango orchard, a squad of police officers, wearing jeans and gym shoes, rushed to the area.
They sprinted past the arcing mango trees heavy with hard, green fruit and into the endless sugar cane fields. They were sweating through their shirts, yelling to one another to go this way or that, rifles and shotguns bouncing on their backs.
But the officers didn’t squeeze off a single shot. The killer dogs had vanished.
School attendance is dropping. Khairabad’s farmers are terrified to linger in their fields, especially at night. Over this past weekend, wild dogs struck again, attacking five people.

Villagers in Gurpaliya chasing off stray dogs. In the town of Khairabad, vigilante groups hunt stray dogs in the evening.CreditSaumya Khandelwal for The New York Times
Khairabad, like just about any other Indian village, has a lot of strays. Many of them used to survive off scraps from the slaughterhouse, and after it was abruptly shut down, villagers and veterinarians said, some of the strays might have gone mad with hunger.
 “Because these dogs are getting less food, they move toward the neighborhoods in search of food,” said Dr. R. K. Singh, the director of the Indian Veterinary Research Institute. “That is leading to intense human animal interaction.”
Children, he said, are “a soft target.”
Mr. Adityanath’s government is prickly when asked about Khairabad’s dog menace, denying that the closing of the slaughterhouse had anything to do with it.
“Why would the dogs of only Khairabad turn into man eaters when slaughterhouses have been shut down all over?” said Awadhesh Kumar Yadav, an urban development officer.
That remains a mystery, though veterinarians said dog attacks were happening in other areas as well.
The forensics here in Khairabad tell their own story. Pictures of mauled children reveal that the dogs clamped down on their throats, the way a leopard or a lion takes down its prey. Some of the children had parts of their legs and arms chewed off.
A woman in Gurpaliya who lost one of her sons to an attack by dogs. Some schools are seeing falling attendance because of fear of dog attacks.CreditSaumya Khandelwal for The New York Times
A few adults have been attacked as well, but none killed.
The dogs, who may come from one pack, have developed a taste for human flesh. On some days, maulings are reported five to 10 miles apart, in the span of just a few hours, a lot of ground for a dog to cover.
But these are not normal strays, villagers insist. They can run 40 miles per hour, “faster than a motorbike,” said Ayub Khan, a village elder. Their mouths are larger, their health better, and, he added with wide eyes and a knowing nod, “their jump is very long.”
Police officers say the dogs travel in packs of five to seven; according to tests performed on several animals linked to the attacks, none were rabid. More than 40 strays have been captured and sterilized, but that has not made any difference.
The dog vigilantes are not taking any chances. On a recent evening, they moved out en masse, dozens of men and a few preteen boys, all carrying sticks, knives or axes.
They spread out across the sugar cane fields and mango orchards, just about the only source of jobs out here. As they moved, the village dogs lounging in the shadows seemed to sense trouble and scrambled up on skinny legs and high-tailed it away. The vigilantes were clear that they were not trying to kill all dogs; India’s dog laws are quite protective and courts have ruled it is illegal to cull strays.
But in January, this same vigilante group killed three dogs and nobody got in trouble. Elders said the dogs had attacked children, and they strung up their carcasses from a mango tree for nearly a month.
“We wanted to send the other dogs a message,” explained Rahimullah Khan, part of the posse.
Not far from where the vigilantes were mustered stood the Khairabad slaughterhouse, its brick floor grooved to drain away blood. Thousands of animals, mostly buffalos, used to be slaughtered here.
But the slaughterhouse is now deserted, the sun casting harsh shadows on its empty courtyard. All the dogs who used to hang around have disappeared.
Many villagers here said they never suffered such vicious dog attacks when the slaughterhouse was open. They said it was not fair to protect cows at the cost of people.
They also complained that stray cows routinely trampled their crops but that if they tried to do anything about it, they would be arrested.
“Forget about killing them,” a farmer named Saeed said. “Under Yogi, you can’t even touch them.”
When asked if it was dangerous to so openly criticize Mr. Adityanath, who has a reputation for being ruthless, Mr. Saeed shrugged.
“We are free to say what we want,” he said. “But who will listen?”
In the district hospital, the young children who barely escaped lie on their backs in metal cots, one after the other, blood-soaked bandages wrapped around their necks.
“This is the chief minister’s responsibility,” said one mother, Rani Sharma.
But then she shook her head, as if coming to her senses.
“Only God helps the poor.”
Suhasini Raj contributed reporting from New Delhi.
Follow Jeffrey Gettleman and Hari Kumar on Twitter: @gettleman and @HariNYT.
A version of this article appears in print on May 22, 2018, on Page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Killer Dogs Take 14 Lives in India. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Domesticated dogs, genomes, and malaria

Plasmodium falciparum is a unicelluar protozoan parasite of humans and the deadliest species of Plasmodium. It is transmitted through the bite of a female Anopheles mosquito and responsible for Therefore it is regarded as the deadliest parasite in humans, causing at least one million deaths every year. The species evolved about 10,000 years ago from the malarial parasite found in gorillas. A World Health Organization report in 2015, suggested there were 214 million cases of malaria worldwide.

Dogs spread across the globe with humans and have had to adapt to the same environmental conditions as humans. A Chinese research team led by Zhang has successfully identified genes selected in African dogs and functionally verified the action of one of these as the first evidence of dog adaptation to malaria.

“Recently, we have shown the first evidence that dogs can undergo similar adaptations as humans, using the same genes to live in the high altitudes of Tibet,” said professor Ya-Ping Zhang.

“Dogs have survived in tropical environments for thousands of years alongside humans,” said Zhang. “In this study, we have identified genes associated with insulin secretion and sensitivity, immunity, angiogenesis and ultraviolet protection showed adaptive selection.”

Yan-Hu Liu et al. (2017) sequenced the genomes of 19 dogs from Nigeria. For this new data set, they identified a set of candidate genes for natural selection in African village dogs and also carried out functional studies to confirm that one of these, ADGRE1, might be responsible for providing host immunity to Plasmodium infection—a target of selection associated with malaria.

“Our study suggests ADGRE1 also contributes to defense against Plasmodium infection in dogs, and thus, convergent evolution in this gene between humans and dogs,” said Guo-Dong Wang. “This is a novel finding since in earlier studies the most apparent cases of convergent evolution between humans and dogs were in genes for digestion and metabolism, neurological process, and cancer.”

The authors went on to show in cell culture experiments in the lab that the derived variant of ADGRE1 is linked to increased phagocytosis in cells infected with Plasmodium parasites, making it very likely that the ADGRE1 confers protection against Plasmodium infection by stimulating the immune response against the parasite.

In addition, they investigated the Nigerian dogs’ demographic history in relation to other dogs, including Eurasian gray wolves and African golden wolves. They found that the Nigerian dog population diverged from Eurasian dog populations around 14,000 years ago. After this divergence, the population fell on hard times, and experienced a severe bottleneck (leading to a reduced genetic diversity within the Nigerian dog population) and also gene flow from African golden wolves after the divergence.

Finally, they explored signals of selection in the Nigerian dog samples, and identified a number of candidate genes that are also linked to dietary and environmental factors.

As the authors note, since ADGRE1 has also been implicated in an adaptive response to Plasmodium in humans, it makes for a nice genetic tale of dogs utilizing similar tricks from living alongside their human companions to adapt to new environments.


Caspermeyer J. 2017. Scientists Find Evidence Our Best Friends, Dogs, Similarly Adapted to Malaria in Africa, Molecular Biology and Evolution,  msx289,

Liu Y-H, Wang L, Xu T, Guo X, Li Y, Yin T-T, Yang H-C, Yang H, Adeola AC, Sanke OJ, et al. 2017. Whole-genome sequencing of African dogs provides insights into adaptations against tropical parasites. Molecular Biology and Evolution.
 Advance Access published October 10, 2017, doi: 10.1093/molbev/msx258

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Wolf parasites in domestic dogs

Grey wolves, like all wild animals, are hosts to a variety of parasites. The presence of grey wolves in German forests has little influence on the parasite burden of hunting dogs. This reassuring conclusion is the result of a new study at the Berlin-based Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW). The study examined the feces of 78 hunting dogs over several months in an area without wolves and in one that had been recolonized. The results have been published in the open access scientific journal International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife.

Since the early 1990s grey wolves are expanding their range in central Europe. This recolonization gives rise to many questions about this apex predator and its influence on the environment and the life cycles of its parasites, prey, and potential competitors. Scientists at the Leibniz-IZW have now uncovered that the presence of wolves has little impact on the parasite burden of domestic dogs used for hunting prey of wolves. The scientists compared hunting dogs based in Eastern Germany, where wolves have re-established themselves since early 2000, with hunting dogs in North of Germany, where -- at the time of the study -- there were no resident wolf packs.

Grey wolves in the Bavarian forest.Photo Credit: © gallas / Fotolia
"Hunting dogs, unlike companion dogs, are especially well suited for this comparison as they, just like the wolf, rummage through forests and have access to game meat.," Ines Lesniak, a scientist at Leibniz-IZW, explains. "The study focused on the parasites of the internal organs, so-called endoparasites, which can be identified in the feces of the host." In a previous study, the spectrum of endoparasites present in German grey wolves was described. As previously, the researchers used genetic techniques to determine the presence of parasitic worms and protozoan intestinal parasites belonging to the Sarcocystis genus in hunting dogs. Both the rate of infection and the species richness of worms and Sarcocystis species found in the dogs did not differ between the study areas with and without wolves. The parasite spectrum of hunting dogs and wolves overlapped considerably, indicating that dogs might have replaced the wolf during its absence as an alternate and suitable definite host in the life cycles of some parasites. A single Sarcocystis species (Sarcocystis grueneri), previously identified as a "wolf specialist," was discovered more frequently in hunting dogs in wolf areas than in hunting dogs in areas without wolves. Like many tapeworms, these protozoans have a life cycle in which carnivores, like dogs or wolves, function as definite host and their prey, such as roe deer and red deer, act as intermediate hosts.

"Unlike wild animals, hunting dogs are regularly dewormed, including the individual hunting dogs which participated in our study," Lesniak emphasizes. "However, these medical treatments do not affect protozoan parasites such as Sarcocystis." The scientists suspect that the high infection probability of hunting dogs -- over 60 percent in both study areas -- is caused by the routine feeding of game meat or offal. "It's in the owner's hands," Lesniak says. "Many study participants already act very responsibly by deworming their dogs on a regular basis; in the best cases several times a year." The official recommendation of the European Scientific Council for Companion Animal Parasites (ESCCAP) is that there should be a monthly treatment of risk groups such as hunting dogs. Such a regular treatment prevents parasitic worms from reproduction in the host and subsequent egg development, which thereby improves the health and wellbeing of the hunting dog. "Dog owners can also reduce the parasite burden of their dogs by the careful feeding of meat leftovers. Cooking the meat is a simple precautionary measure that inactivates all parasites -- from protozoans to tapeworm cysts -- as well as other pathogens that might be present in the meat." The Leibniz-IZW considers wolves to play a minor role regarding the excretion and distribution of parasites. "The number of wolves in Germany is extremely low compared to other carnivores such as red foxes or raccoon dogs, which can also serve as hosts for these parasites, and it is also low in comparison to the number of hunting dogs," comments the senior author of the study, Dr. Oliver Krone.

German dog owners can rejoice: None of the parasite species found in hunting dogs are an unreasonable health risk to humans, irrespective of whether the dogs live in an area where wolves are present or not present. The regular treatment with anthelmintics and feeding of cooked leftovers are simple but effective measures to maintain the health of hunting dogs. The Leibniz-IZW study illustrates that concerns regarding pathogens related to the return of wolves are currently unjustified.

Ines Lesniak, Mathias Franz, Ilja Heckmann, Alex D. Greenwood, Heribert Hofer, Oliver Krone. Surrogate hosts: Hunting dogs and recolonizing grey wolves share their endoparasites. International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife, 2017; 6 (3): 278 DOI: 10.1016/j.ijppaw.2017.09.001

Ines Lesniak, Ilja Heckmann, Emanuel Heitlinger, Claudia A. Szentiks, Carsten Nowak, Verena Harms, Anne Jarausch, Ilka Reinhardt, Gesa Kluth, Heribert Hofer, Oliver Krone. Population expansion and individual age affect endoparasite richness and diversity in a recolonising large carnivore population. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 41730 DOI: 10.1038/srep41730