The thriving big cat population at the Jim Corbett National Park might be a show piece for successful conservation, but the famous wild life sanctuary's tigers and leopards might be at risk from canine diseases from some 17,000-odd dogs living in villages in the 5km buffer zone.

A first of its kind survey of wildlife habitats in India conducted by the Humane Society International, India, (HSI) - a leading animal rights group - found most of the dogs were unvaccinated and are possible prey for felines who continue to spill out of the core areas of the sanctuary.

Though dogs are not natural diet for tigers, the interface with human populated areas makes them vulnerable. Dogs are certainly a prey for leopards who often raid villages and isolated dwellings looking for an easy meal.

The survey makes a case for immediate vaccination of around 13,000 dogs that are not vaccinated and might infect the big cats with infections that are not found in the wild. The dog population survey is considered the best means of determining the vaccination gap and prevent canine diseases from transferring to felines.

Amit Chaudhari, who led the team in conducting the survey around the Jim Corbett National Park in October, told TOI that vaccinations are a preventive action.

"The majority of the dogs in this buffer zone are either owned by the villagers or are in their care. There are innumerable instances wherein the dogs are snatched away at night by big cats. Largely unaware of these infections and the available vaccinations for it, the villagers have not given vaccinations to these dogs," Chaudhari said.

Research shows tigers and leopards in such sanctuaries are at risk from canine diseases like rabies, parvo and distemper, all viruses that can be transferred from canine to feline. Vaccination is also important to protect humans and prevent reprisals against the canines. There have been instances where people killed dogs around Ranthambore national park in Rajasthan, fearing spread of diseases in the area.

The HSI is currently preparing a proposal for the NTCA on how to take the project to the next phase of vaccination by running a pilot project that can be then extended to other national parks. "The vaccination drive will not only create a healthy habitat for the wildlife but also for the humans inhabiting these areas, making it a first of its kind project in India", said the HSI in a statement while disclosing basic details of the survey.

Rahul Sehgal, director of HIS, Asia, said, "This survey is the first step towards the 'Free Roaming Dog Population Program' that will help in further protecting the dogs and the wildlife habitat. After the survey, we now wish to vaccinate the dogs and identify if any are already infected."

Source: January 1, 2016, The Times of India