The news of a seven-year-old girl mauled by a pack of feral dogs in Genekha, Thimphu, on Friday, is the most disturbing case of human-wildlife conflict in the country.

The girl, a Class-I student, was returning home from school when the incident happened. Her death leaves a series of questions—in particular—how do we deal with such incidents, who do we blame, and how do we tackle the larger issue of human-wildlife conflict, which according to reports, is rising by the year?

The issue of feral dogs is growing, particularly in rural areas. In Gangtey, Wangdue, feral dogs are known to prey on livestock and tshethar animals. But it is when human lives are at stake that we need to be really concerned and solutions sought.

Most feral dogs, according to research conducted in places where it is a growing problem, are difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish from domestic dogs. According to research-based wildlife control information, “The primary feature that distinguishes feral from domestic dogs is the degree of reliance or dependence on humans, and in some respect, their behaviour toward people.”

Feral dogs survive and reproduce independently of human intervention or assistance. They acquire their primary subsistence by hunting and scavenging like other wild canids (a mammal of the dog family). They are opportunistic feeders and efficient predators, preying on small and large animals. Besides injuring or killing livestock, and damage to crops and equipment, feral dogs are also known to spread diseases to livestock.

Managing the population and threats posed by feral dogs can prove to be challenging due to the perception that they are domesticated—feral dogs can easily revert to a wild state and become a serious management problem. We seem to have arrived at a time when we need to take drastic action.

Often when we are faced with such problems, religious sentiments come in. But it is now about the urgent need to protect human lives. All control techniques available to us must be used: lethal bating, shooting, trapping and exclusion fencing, among others.

To a certain extent, our stray dog management programme should be able to address the problem. Because the stray and feral dog population is rising, posing threat to human lives, religious sentiments must not impede the drive to control dangerous pests.