More than a month after unknown predators began killing livestock in six districts of Manipur, experts roped in from Dehradun’s Wildlife Institute of India (WII) identified stray and domesticated dogs as the culprits. But the mystery of the nocturnal attacks was far from solved in some parts bordering Myanmar; the experts weren’t sure who or what killed domestic fowl in Churachandpur and Kakching districts without using fangs and claws to tear the flesh or leaving a blood trail, as carnivorous animals do.
Where did it begin?
The first of the killings was reported from Churachandpur in the last week of October. Dead ducks and chicken, found slashed and without their entrails at three places in a village 75 km from the capital Imphal, did not raise any suspicion until this happened on three consecutive nights. The killings stopped after the villagers set up night vigils but the unknown killers soon struck elsewhere in the district. Goats, cattle and even dogs were killed, apart from fowl, this time. Panic set in after similar cases of livestock deaths were reported from four more districts - Imphal East, Bishnupur, Thoubal and Kangpokpi. The first human, a woman in Imphal East district’s Khurai Heikrumakhong area, was attacked on December 1 by what she claimed was a flying creature. It spawned theories of attacks by aliens, mutants and vampire-like creatures. A couple of civets - a cat-like small, nocturnal carnivore - paid the price of social media-driven rumours, forcing Manipur’s Forest Department to swing into action. Wary of the damage social media could cause, as was the case with the ‘child-lifters’ yarn that claimed the lives of two men in Assam, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Kereilhouvi Angami sought DGP L.M. Khaute’s help in checking the cyberscare over the attacks.
What did the government do?
Manipur, home to leopard cats and civets, is not leopard and tiger territory, unlike adjoining Assam. The retaliatory killing of small wild carnivores made the Forest Department contact the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehradun to check if “it is the nature” of civets to attack domestic animals in the fashion witnessed in Manipur. The officials also sent the footprints of the animal found in some places to forensic experts. More than a week ago, a five-member team from the WII set up camera traps at nine of some 50 locations where 150 animals and birds were killed, and strategically placed wooden cages with chicken as bait to trap the suspected killers.
What did the experts find?
After studying 50 cases since November 28, the WII team concluded that most of the killings were by stray and free-ranging dogs. According to Chief Wildlife Warden in-charge Anurag Bajpai, images from camera traps and scat, hair samples and footprints collected from the sites made it clear that dogs were responsible. Several aspects came to the fore: poor garbage and waste management, particularly meat and animal carcasses disposed of by hotels and households letting strays develop a taste, poor animal husbandry practices and not using proper cages or fences for livestock, and the tendency of domesticating free-rangers as hunting dogs, and not chaining pet local breeds at night. “Of the four animals in the canine family, there is no distribution of the wolf in Manipur or adjoining areas. The last of the wild dogs was seen 25 years ago. Manipur has jackals but the footprints did not suggest their involvement. That leaves only the dogs,” Mr. Bajpai said. Officials said strays hunting in packs at night was not unusual; this happened in Kerala and Odisha a year ago.
Why does the mystery remain?
The dog attacks made the Veterinary Department take over the cases from the Forest Department. But mystery still surrounds the killings in Churachandpur and Kakching. Gopi G.V., one of the WII scientists, said those killings “were something different.” Scientific study of the carcasses revealed the animals were killed with sharp objects and there was no blood trail. The answer could lie in visceral and other samples sent to the WII and other laboratories.