About Me

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Mumbai, India
I'm a landrace dog fancier, birder and amateur arachnologist. I'm also a wildlife conservationist working in the tiger reserves of central India with Satpuda Foundation. Founder of the INDog Project (www.indog.co.in) and the INDog Club. I worked with urban free-ranging dogs of Mumbai for 14 years.

This blog is for aboriginal breed enthusiasts. It is part of the INDog Project www.indog.co.in. Only INDogs (Indian Pariah) and INDog-mix mongrels are featured here. The two are NOT the same, do please read the text on the right to understand the difference. Our aim: to create awareness about the primitive natural breed called the Indian Pariah Dog/INDog.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dr Sunil Pal and the study of free-ranging dogs

Considering that Canis familiaris is our oldest and closest animal companion, and possibly the most popular animal too, isn't it surprising how little we have actually bothered to find out about this species? A case of familiarity breeding contempt perhaps?

I've put up several posts here about the enigma of dog behaviour and the eye-opening books by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, Patricia B McConnell, Turid Rugaas, Stephen Budiansky and others.

If dog behaviour per se is under-researched, the behaviour of free-ranging dogs is even more so. In this post I'd like to introduce one of the few scientists in the world who study these most taken-for-granted, ignored and overlooked animals. His name is Dr Sunil Kumar Pal and he lives and works in the town of Katwa in West Bengal. This is my tribute to this
remarkable and unassuming man, and to his discoveries in this strangely unfamiliar and uncharted terrain.

I first met Dr Pal in Kolkata in 2007 and I've had the privilege of corresponding with him over the past two and a half years. His work has been published in prestigious scientific journals including Elsevier and Acta Theriologica, and he has presented his papers at international conferences on ethology. Some of the papers are available online, but you would have to subscribe to the journals to read the full articles -
here is the link to his paper on Parental care in free-ranging dogs. He has also published studies of dispersal, agonistic behaviour, reproductive behaviour, population ecology and urine-marking.

Things haven't always been easy but Dr Pal never abandoned his work. I have to congratulate him on the dedication and sheer interest in his subject that kept him going. I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog that many of us sincerely love dogs; but how many of us are really interested in them, or want to know everything they do and why they do it?

I've learned fascinating things about these animals through his papers and through our many conversations.
Before Dr Pal's work, the only research on the behaviour of free-ranging dogs in India was done by Elizabeth and John Oppenheimer in the 1970s. One of Dr Pal's papers was co-authored by B Ghosh and S Roy. Very recently another scientist has also chosen these dogs as the subject of her research: Dr Anindita Bhadra (she was mentioned by the Telegraph, Kolkata a couple of weeks ago.)

The pictures here were taken by me during my visit to Dr Pal and his wife Dipti last week. After a delicious lunch (thank you, Dipti!) we walked down the road to meet some of the subjects of his latest study: a group including three nursing bitches and their pups. Dr Pal told me about an adult male of the group, who feeds the three mothers with regurgitated food, but never the pups. I've heard of males feeding their own pups regurgitated food (click here for an earlier post). But this dog's behaviour is entirely new to me. This male for some reason didn't mate with any of these females but actually left the group during mating time (late monsoon last year). He isn't the father of any of the pups. Yet he looks after the three females and is very close to them.

Just goes to show that
nothing should be taken for granted when it comes to these animals.

Mild, friendly and familiar they may be, but the free-ranging dog is still almost a complete stranger to us, and there are many more secrets and mysteries waiting to be discovered...by those few who really want to look.
Some of my snapshots from Katwa:

Above: Only two of these pups belong to this bitch. The others belong to her mother and sister. When we saw her, the other two females were away and she was "babysitting." She doesn't like nursing pups of the other females, but she allowed all of them to suckle briefly while we were there.

Above: Here she's snapping at the pups that don't belong to her - it didn't deter them much, I must add!

Above: These two are hers

West Bengal


Veera said...

Thanks Rajashree, again such a fascinating post!

I don't remember if I have discussed this with you before, but I recently met a dog who covered his feces very carefully with snow using his snout. I have never seen it before. Have you seen or do you know of dogs doing this (I mean with earth - there's just a lot of snow in Finland right now)? This dog was a mix breed rescue dog from a russian shelter. The dog had just arrived so the owner couldn't really tell if he always does it and he would do it also with earth.

Veera said...

...if he would do it also with earth.

Rajashree Khalap said...

Glad you liked the post Veera. Dr Pal does amazing work and I wish you could meet him.

No, I haven't come across dogs burying their faeces though they are of course very fussy and careful about picking the right place to deposit them. Kimaya in particular is very secretive and usually does this job on top of a huge pile of dead leaves collected in my garden. But no faeces-burying - that seems more a cat thing.

Anonymous said...

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doggylove said...

hi! one pet(he is kept as a gurad dog, chained all day long),named 'tiger', he is an unusual mix types,large dog but not resembling to any pure breed!he was tommy's first doggy friend, still they r friends. he used to be left scott free early mornings to stroll for himself, so whenever his timings matched with ours he used to walk ahead of us, as if he too were my responsibility! this dog shits and then snifs it turns his back, and carefully with powerful strokes of his hind legs blows mud, sand on it! after two days of his company, tommy too picked up this habit, but my handsome dumbo, strokes his hind legs in any direction!!!tommy only copied his action without knowing the reason behind it!

doggylove said...

one more thing abt milking : 6 yrs back when i had just started volunteering, 3 females in my colony, rather from one chowk near my house had delivered almost the same time. one person, collected all the puppies lying in 3 different dry gutters together, and placed them in one gutter. all the 3 females used to feed any of the pups,after going to that spot at different hours of the day! only one pup survived though, their mutual maternal understanding was just remarkable, otherwise the females are not each others friends, now all spayed!!

Rajashree Khalap said...

Very interesting incidents Manik. I must share the one about the nursing mothers with Dr Pal. Will ask about faeces burying too.

tattu said...

I found your post on Dr. Pal very interesting and would like to meet him for discussing the issue of protecting and conserving free ranging dogs. It would be wonderful if you could give me some information on how I can get in touch with him. Thanks,

your student of class nine said...

hello sir, It's wonderful to protect and conserve dogs. I also want to get some information about this.