Dog population management field clinic

How Bhutan became the first country in the world to achieve 100% sterilisation of its free roaming dog population

Accelerated Dog Population Management and Rabies Control Program

His Majesty the King granted a Royal Audience to officials from the Department of Livestock, De-suung organization and His Majesty’s Secretariat on July 30, 2021.

His Majesty directed the Department to devise a swift and comprehensive plan to control the free-roaming dog population in a professional, humane and compassionate manner.

Subsequently, a nationwide sterilization initiative, the Nationwide Accelerated Dog Population Management and Rabies Control Program (NADPM&RCP) was launched.

The blueprint was developed to achieve effective dog population management with clear, time-bound goals, increased budgetary support, robust stakeholder and community engagement, strong policy backing, a focus on “whole-of-nation” approach and well-defined exit strategies. Following were the program’s objectives:

– Achieve 100 percent free-roaming dog sterilization and eventual freedom from free-roaming dogs

– Ensure responsible pet ownership through digital identification and registration of all pet dogs

– Manage feral dog population

– Control rabies through intensified vaccination campaigns and achieve the global goal of “0 by 30” – zero human death due to dog-mediated rabies by 2030

– Conserve native Chang-khyi breed

In partnership with the De-suung Office, the Department of Livestock implemented the program in different phases, namely the Nationwide campaign, Mopping and Combing, covering 20 Dzongkhags and four Thromdes in less than two years.

The program was implemented with a total budget of Nu. 295 million and a total of 12,812 personnel, including 9,036 De-suups, were engaged. To meet the human resource requirement to implement the nationwide program, the HR capacity building process was initiated by the Department through On-the-job training using national experts.

Within two years of implementing this program, remarkable achievements were made, including a nationwide 100 percent sterilization coverage of free-roaming dogs and the vaccination of over 90 percent of these dogs.

The key accomplishments include:

– Sterilization of 61,680 dogs (91.2% unowned and 8.8% owned).

– Microchipping and registration of 32,544 pet dogs.

– Anti-rabies vaccination of 61,331 dogs (91.1% unowned and 8.9% owned).

– Amendment of Livestock Rules and Regulations, 2022.

– Construction of the Changkhyi Conservation Centre (CCC) for native breed conservation.

To celebrate this historic achievement, a closing ceremony was held on October 27, 2023, in Thimphu.

During the closing ceremony, certificates of recognition were awarded to the Dzongkhag and Thromde Administrations, and an agreement of commitment to sustaining the achievements was signed between the Director, Department of Livestock, and the respective Dzongdas and Thrompons. Similarly, program closing ceremonies were held in Phuentsholing, Bumthang, and Trashigang on October 30, 2023, to cover the remaining regions.

Furthermore, in recognition of the excellent partnership, the De-suung organization was awarded a certificate of commendation. Similarly, in recognition of their support, the key stakeholders namely the Department of Forests and Park Services, Bhutan Power Corporation and Animal Welfare Organizations including Royal Society for Protection and Care of Animals, Jangsa Animal Saving Trust and the Humane Society International were awarded with the certificate of appreciation.

Born from the auspicious initiative of His Majesty the King, the program garnered unparalleled support, unwavering commitment and collaboration from the policy makers, government organizations, private agencies, local government, and the communities. It was embraced as a national endeavor at all the levels, aligning with our King’s vision to create a healthier and safer Bhutan for all.

With the achievement of this extraordinary, unprecedented, and historic milestone, Bhutan takes a significant stride toward its vision of becoming a nation free from free-roaming dogs and dog-mediated human rabies.

The problem of growing dog population in Bhutan

Some of the key issues arising from the growing dog population in Bhutan include its effects on public health, environmental littering, the potential transmission of zoonotic diseases, and disturbances in the community due to barking and biting.

The national dog bite data showed that 6873 people fell victim to dog bites in 2021 alone. Further, between 2006-2023, 19 people have died due to dog-mediated rabies. These challenges posed by the increasing dog population have been recognized for several decades, prompting the government to implement intervention measures aimed at addressing the growing dog population and its related issues.

History of dog population management in Bhutan

Considering the number of problems associated with increasing free-roaming dog population, the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) initially implemented using methods that were popular and widespread at the time.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the nation had undertaken an array of measures in attempts to tackle the problem. However, those measures received poor acceptance and support from the community due to religious and cultural reasons.

By the 1990s, a lot of translocations were carried out to address localized dog population explosion but it failed.

In 2008, the government earmarked Nu. 27 million for the establishment of dog shelters nationwide to house free-roaming dogs. Nevertheless, this approach proved unsuccessful due to issues relating to sustainability and the welfare of the animals involved.

Although sterilization was carried out in the 2000s, the scale and manner in which they were conducted was unsustainable and did not achieve the necessary coverage.

In 2009, the Department of Livestock and Humane Society International (HSI), USA, collaborated to address the dog population issue. The collaboration adopted the “capture-neuter-vaccinate-release” (CNVR) protocol for the first time in the country.

The project was executed in three phases, with each phase spanning three years. The initial two phases, from 2009 to 2015, were carried out through a 50-50 partnership, involving both partners contributing resources equally in both cash and in-kind. A total of Nu. 60.848 million was spent during this period. In the third phase (2016-2018), the partnership was based on 65% contribution from RGoB in cash and 35% contribution from HSI which were all in-kind.

A total of Nu. 10.758 million was spent during the last phase. Over nine years of collaboration, about 92,000 dogs were sterilized and vaccinated against rabies. Besides sterilization and vaccination of dogs, the project also carried out a dog population and KAP survey to determine the baseline information regarding the dog population and community’s perception on dog population management.

To ensure that this collaboration was sustained through engagement and empowerment of community, Community Animal Birth Control Program (CABC) as a component to the program was inculcated in 2014. Through this project, all the field veterinarians and some para-vets were trained on CNVR protocol.

The collaboration ended in June 2018.

Based on the findings of the KAP survey, a “Community Engagement’’ proposal for Thimphu and Paro was developed with Nu. 5.8 million budget support from Humane Society International. This project coincided with the implementation of NADPM and RCP.

Limitation of the past interventions

While the efforts to manage dog population intensified with adoption of different approaches, these approaches failed to yield the desired outcomes mainly due to undefined targets or lack of specific and measurable targets; lack of synchronized operational modality which led sterilization programs not being implemented simultaneously across the country; limited resources human and financial resources; incomplete coverage allowing some dogs to reproduce; minimal stakeholder and community engagement and lack of awareness regarding the importance of dog population control; and lack of an exit strategy.

The Flagship Program– Recognizing the urgent need to continue and reinforce efforts to manage the dog population in the country, the government launched the National Waste Management and Stray Dog Population Control (NWM & SDPC) Flagship Program in March 2020.

The three years program’s goal was to achieve a minimum 95 percent sterilization and vaccination coverage of free-roaming dogs; 100 percent registration and sterilization of owned dogs; and to reverse the ratio of owned to un-owned dogs from 30:70 to 70:30 by 2023. Further, the DPM component of NWM & SDPC Flagship Program also aimed at achieving zero dog-mediated human rabies deaths by 2030.

The three-year (March 2020 – February 2023) NWM & SDPC Flagship Program with a proposed budget of Nu. 115 M began from March 2020. The implementation of the program covered five Dzongkhags of Bumthang, Haa, Paro, Thimphu and Tsirang, sterilizing a total of 9,147 dogs, with the coverage ranging from 80 percent to 94 percent.

For media inquiries, please email: nadpm.rcp@gmail.com dol@moal.gov.bt ncah@moal.gov.bt

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