Neither ‘Pet’ Nor ‘Pest’: Exploring Individual Decision-Makings on Creative Usage of Space Among Himalayan Feral Dogs in Langtang, Nepal
Different from stray dogs inhabiting metropolitan areas such as Kathmandu, mountain dogs in the Nepal Himalayas have neither pack structures nor territory. They live either alone or in groups of two to three. For food, they hunt sheep or smaller animals. They stay active and wander about the villages and mountains during day and night. Their unrestricted mobility and dispersion prevent themselves from being targeted by culling and neutering campaigns held by the state and internationally funded NGOs within five decades.
However, as it borders Tibet, Langtang National Park of the Nepal Himalayas has been increasingly influenced by the development and political agendas of both Nepali and Chinese state. For example, the construction of both Chinese and Nepali dams in the area along with Chinese funded highways have instigated new life strategies among the mountain dogs.
By attending to individual dogs and the ways they conduct their daily lives in Langtang, this research explores issues of individual decision-making under human surveillance, including creative usage of space and active utilization of anthropogenic projects. For what reason did the dogs decide to use the crowded highway for their daily movements instead of mountain trails? Under what context are they motivated to gather around dam construction site during the day and disappear along the highway at night? Is it coincident that dogs enter three field site villages (namely Syafru bensi, Thuman and Chilime) after sunset and leave before dawn? What are the ad hoc skills generated in order to make use of the space without being perceived as a trouble or a threat?
While studies of stray dogs in Nepal are prevalent, most of the researches are conducted from a top-down perspective that perceives stray dog as a species or a community that cause problems to a human dominant space. Globally, dogs (and other non-human animals) are often perceived as either a problem or a help. The World Health Organization defines different categories of dogs on the basis of the extent to which they ‘depend on’ humans: family dogs, restricted dogs, neighborhood dogs, and feral dogs. Among the four categories, family dogs are placed under the highest restriction on movements and access to food, while feral dogs are subject to the least. This can also be seen as a categorization on the basis of the extent to which dogs ‘cause problems’—As family and restricted (work) dogs are often praised as loving and serving companions, feral dogs are perceived as not only a potential threat to life but also an invasive species that cause economic loss and habitat damage.
What is a feral dog that is neither serving nor threatening? How does a feral dog go about its daily life, coexisting with human? Through a bottom-up perspective, this research examines the ways in which Himalayan feral dogs resist being objectified as either ‘pet’ or ‘pest’ through independent and creative lifestyles, and the ways in which individual dog choose a life on the move.