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Collaboration in Conservation - Tiger Tops Dog Clinic

At Tiger Tops we have always believed that the key to success in conservation is cooperation and collaboration; this was completely true of our most recent conservation initiative.

We teamed up with the Himalayan Animal Rescue Trust to run a Mass Neutering and Vaccination Dog Clinic at Tiger Tops Elephant Camp from 28th March – 1st April.

Himalayan Animal Rescue Trust (HART) are based in Pokhara and Bharatpur. The collaboration was initiated by our Guest Relations Team who discovered their work when seeking veterinary care for a sick dog in Tharu Village. HART’s services are extensive, since 2006 they have been running mass neutering and vaccination clinics, education and awareness programmes for communities, and emergency animal rescue.

Following a trip to Pokhara in early February to shadow HART on their mass vaccination programme, our Guest Relations Team decided that the sooner HART could bring their mobile clinic to Elephant Camp, the better.

To run a dog population control programme has, for a long time, been an aspiration of lodge manager and conservationist DB Chaudhary. The only ethical way to control a stray and feral dog population is by neutering; additionally, by vaccinating dogs against rabies both local people and livestock is protected against the life-threatening disease.

Following a census of the villages surrounding the lodge, two hundred dogs were identified as eligible for treatment at the clinic. We knew that the dog population was out of control but we were astounded by the number of puppies we saw. Mortality rates in puppies are high, averagely only one third of a litter reaches adulthood. The life expectancy for a street dog is only 4-5 years, for females in particular, this is no life at all, producing litter after litter, often dying of exhaustion.

HART is a small charity who do phenomenal work throughout Nepal. In light of this we ran a fundraiser to run the clinic at minimal expense to HART. With thanks to the fantastically supportive and generous guests of Tiger Tops we raised £3000 to treat 200 dogs.

It was with great excitement and anticipation we welcomed the fourteen strong HART team to Tiger Tops Elephant Camp last Monday. Their operation is slick, after welcome drinks they had their three surgery tents set up within fifteen minutes. Late in the afternoon we joined in convoy to drive around the villages announcing the arrival of the clinic and encouraging local people to have their dogs ready for collection the following morning. The local community were enthusiastic and helpful as well as a little skeptical; this clinic is the first of its kind in the area.

The relationship between dogs and Nepali people is a simple one. Aside from those who have pets, people and dogs function in separate circles. People will often leave leftover food outside their houses for the stray dogs. Particularly where we are based, in the Buffer Zone of Chitwan National Park, the stray dogs serve as alarm bells for when dangerous wildlife wanders onto village land. During the dog catching sessions we found that dogs were confident and comfortable around people but were flighty and snappy when physical contact was initiated. Nepali people do not tend to lavish their dogs with the same physical affections as western cultures. They do however love and hug their goats; often while walking around the village you will come across people talking and singing to their goats and holding them cuddled in their arms.

Everyday, at 6.30am the HART dog catching team, along with Tiger Tops’ Udya Thanet and Shambu Mahato, headed out to the villages to collect the dogs. HART bought along their custom designed jeeps, complete with cages for transporting the dogs back to Elephant Camp. This process was arguably more complicated and strategic than the surgery itself! Tharu Village was a challenge for the dog catchers, unlike in Pokhara, Tharu Village has wide open fields that dogs can easily run away into, and if you miss one, you miss the lot. With stealth and patience, they caught 30-40 dogs a day.

Once the jeeps were full the teams headed back to Elephant Camp where the surgical team were waiting. HART’s dog catching team are professional vet nurses, their work ethic was outstanding. They jumped out of the jeeps, scrubbed in and started the pre-surgery for each dog with a caring and comforting hand. The operations take fifteen to twenty minutes to complete. With two veterinarians operating at a time, up to eight dogs could be treated in an hour. After surgery, once their sedation had worn off the dogs were delivered back to their villages. Although a little woozy, it was clear to see they were glad to be home!

A highlight of the week was seeing Mangal (Tiger Tops’ herdsman) guide his dog Tiger through the clinic. Mangal is a true dog lover and was delighted to be able to accompany his buddy through surgery and recovery. The surgical team allowed Mangal to get as involved as possible, he learned how to check Tiger’s heartbeat and sprayed the wound with sterilising spray after the stitching was complete. The Tharu community are not that creative when it comes to naming dogs – almost all were called Tiger or Rocky! Made it easy for us to remember the names though.

As with so many of our conservation projects the benefit to the community was prevalent throughout the clinic. Throughout the week, Chandra Yamphu ran education and awareness sessions. The adult sessions focused on how to treat your child if they get bitten by a dog, how to stay safe from rabies and how to best protect livestock from stray dogs. The attendees asked insightful questions to Chandra, they certainly left the session more informed and ready to share their newfound knowledge with their community. After the meeting in Serganj we were delighted to watch the women’s dance troop rehearse their traditional Tharu Stick Dance. The children’s session, at the Tiger Tops Swiss Air School, was engaging and enlightening for all the involved. We even brought in a puppy to teach the children how to compassionately care for dogs, much to their excitement!

On the final day, after the last set of dogs had been returned to the village we organised a safari for the HART team. We wanted to thank them for their tireless hard work throughout the week and for them to leave having had a taste of the Tiger Tops experience. It was our privilege to be able to take them of a Jeep Safari and River Safari that culminated in sundowners while our elephants bathed at Amaltari Ghat. Selfies, smiles and a spectacular sunset was the perfect way to end a brilliantly successful week.