Bhutan: Dog bite on rise in 2022 as JDWNRH records more than 100 dog bite cases per month in Thimphu

The Emergency Department in Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) has recorded 20 cases of people bitten by stray dogs from 1 to 7 July 2022 in the capital. In the June month alone, more than 100 dog bites have been recorded in the Emergency Department. On an average, JDWNRH receives more than 100 dog bite cases every month.

The Clinical Nurse in Emergency Department said the number of dog bites has increased compared to the past. The department receives up to 10 cases of dog bites in a day, with few cases where people are bitten by pet dogs, and some rare cat bites too. The severity of the cases range from minor to severe.

A month ago, when Yenten Thinley was returning home from office, a dog from a pack of stray dogs roaming near his neighborhood had bitten him on the calf of his left leg.

He said the dogs started barking at him, and just when he thought he had stood his ground and chased them away, the dogs came silently from behind him to bite.

“The same pack of dogs has bitten many passersby,” he said.

In May 2022, a seven-year-old child was mauled to death by feral dogs in front of her house in Genekha.

Karma Tshering from Thimphu said that he is regularly attacked by dogs while he is jogging and even when he is biking, and he was treated for a dog bite last year.

“Even neighbourhood dogs have started running after cars, joggers and cyclists, especially in the early mornings. It is a new trend and very dangerous,” he said.

A couple of years ago, a drunk woman had passed out on the streets in Jungshina, and was set upon by stray dogs who attacked and tore out a chunk of her inner thigh.

The Department of Livestock (DoL) recently received multiple calls from people complaining about a pack of semi-feral or feral dogs on the upper Sangaygang road who are aggressive towards people walking, running or cycling in the areas. Action is being taken to relocate them.

The dog problem, however, is not confined to Thimphu alone. Recently an Nun of the Dra Karpo Monastery in Shabha, Paro was set upon by a stray dog that tore her ankle and her clothes too. She required multiple stiches to treat her wounds, and she now has difficulty walking and has to use taxis to move around. The same stray dog that had bitten the Anim was known to attack other people too.

Tandi Wangmo of UNDOC said that the issue is worse in Phobjikha, Wangdue where two packs of dogs numbering 14 and 9 each live in the protected Ramsar area and attack livestock and people.

The Annual Health Bulletin reports that in 2021, there were 6,873 dog bite cases up from 6,430 cases in 2020. These are again the medically reported cases only, and do not include those who have not sought medical treatment, especially in remote areas. For a population of around 700,000 Bhutanese, this is almost equivalent to one in every hundred Bhutanese being bitten by dogs every year.

Unvaccinated dogs and feral dogs are not just a threat to humans, but also to wildlife and livestock in Bhutan.

In March 2018, the social media was agog with a tiger walking along the main road in Kabesa, Thimphu as cars drove by. It was a deep mystery as to why a tiger previously spotted in the wild tiger range areas only would move into an urban area.

However, the tiger died a few days later, and when forest officials looked for the cause of death the tiger’s brain was found to be riddled with a species of tapeworm that are specific to dogs and feral dogs. Forest and livestock officials concluded that the tiger must have eaten some feral dogs in the forest, and this is how the tape worms entered the tiger’s head, first disorienting it to move into an urban area and then killing it slowly.

An adult Black-Necked Crane was rescued from a group of stray dogs in Langthel, Trongsa in December 2020. Forest officials from Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park transported the rescued crane to Phobjikha and put it in the crane rehab facility at the Black-Necked Crane Visitor Centre.

Stray and feral dogs are a major threat at Black-Necked Crane landing areas.

Similarly, farmers across Bhutan, including those raising yaks in the highlands, have seen stray or feral dogs hunting and even killing their livestock.

The Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer of DoL, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, Dr Karma Wangdi, said that in 2021, a total of 1,310 dog bite cases in domestic and wild animals were reported in veterinary hospitals, and livestock extension centers in the country.

When asked why dog attacks are going up in recent times Veterinary Superitendent, Dr Kinley Dorji, of DoL said that there are two reasons.

He said one reason is because people and organizations are feeding stray dogs. He said dogs get very protective of their owners or those who feed them, and they end up attacking other people around.