Though the cases of human conflict with Dogs & Snakes is more common, the data on Dog & Snake Bite cases is not accurately captured. There is a huge discrepancy between the number of deaths due to Snake bite as reported by the NCRB and the Ministry of Health. In 2021, while NCRB reported more than 10,000 such deaths, the health ministry’s NHP reported fewer than 1000 deaths.
Human-wildlife conflict refers to situations where the interests of humans and wildlife intersect, often leading to negative outcomes for both. While it commonly brings to mind clashes involving large mammals like elephants or predators like tigers, it extends beyond these scenarios. Even seemingly innocuous animals like pigeons in urban areas can contribute to these conflicts. For instance, pigeons in cities can cause problems like spreading diseases, damaging buildings with their droppings, and creating noise, while human practices like feeding them, and noise from construction and traffic can result in alterations to the natural behaviour of pigeons.
In the previous story, we looked at the occurrences of human fatalities at the national level and across different states due to tiger and elephant encounters with humans in the last decade, as reported by the Environment Ministry. The story focused on the attacks by two flagship species, that have dedicated conservation projects. In this story, we look at the cases of dog and snake bites, and deaths due to snake bites.
While encounters with big mammals receive heightened attention due to their ecological significance, requiring comprehensive, long-term conservation strategies, encounters with dogs and snakes are more widespread, and not confined to specific habitats. Moreover, attacks by dogs and snakes pose immediate localized health concerns. These incidents call for treating injuries, managing bites, or local animal control. They require prompt medical attention and control measures for diseases like rabies.
307 Deaths due to Rabies were reported in 2022
Reports of stray dog attacks on humans are increasingly common across the country in recent times. Numerous reports show the increasing cases of stray dogs having killed or led to the deaths of people, especially among the vulnerable sections. According to a parliament response from July 2023, a total of 307 people died due to rabies infection in the country in 2022. Most of these were reported from Delhi, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Karnataka, and Kerala. Since the data on the number of deaths due to dog attacks is not available, we look at the number of dog bite cases reported in the country.
Data on dog and snake bites are collated by the Health Ministry
The data for this story has been taken from Dataful. The data source for the numbers on snake bites as well as dog bites is the Ministry of Health. The data on dog bites is reported to the Ministry by States under the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP)- Integrated Health Information Platform (IHIP). Under this portal, data is collected from major hospitals both in the public and private sectors, and Infectious Disease hospitals under the Integrated Disease Surveillance Project (IDSP). Similarly, the data for snake bites has been compiled from the annual National Health Profile reports as updated by States every month.
2.78 crore cases of dog bites reported in six years between 2018 and 2023
Between 2018 and 2023, nearly 2.78 crore cases of dog bite cases were reported in the country. In 2018 alone, more than 75.66 lakh cases were reported which declined over the years to 21.8 lakh cases in 2022. However, it has again increased by 26% in 2023. Throughout the years, the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Bihar together accounted for an average of 60% of the cases each year.
Fewer cases of dog attacks have been reported in recent years
Upon normalizing the dog bites data same with population estimates provided in the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) report for the period between 2018 and 2022, the number of cases of dog bites per lakh population has dropped from 572 in 2018 to 158 in 2022.
All the states/UTs except Nagaland recorded more than 100 cases per lakh population in 2018 while Telangana recorded more than 2000 cases and Tamil Nadu recorded more than 1000 cases in 2018. However, in 2022, 12 states/UTs reported less than 100 cases each per lakh population. Among large states, Tamil Nadu had the most cases with 475 per lakh population followed by Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra with more than 300 cases each. All the states/UTs reported a decline in cases in 2022 compared to the year 2018. Fewer cases have been reported in recent years though the exact reasons for such a decrease are not known.
Every year, over 1.5 lakh cases of snake bite and 1100 deaths were reported in the last decade
India is home to approximately 310 snake species, with the majority being non-venomous. Among these, 66 species possess venom, with the Spectacled cobra, Russell’s viper, Saw-scaled vipers, and Common Krait being the most common venomous snakes. Around 90% of snakebites are caused by these ‘big four’.
A total of 11,254 deaths out of over 15 lakh cases of snake bites were reported in the last ten years between 2012 and 2021. On average, around 1100 people die due to snake bites every year while over 1.5 lakh cases are reported. It should be noted that the National Health Profile data is based on the cases reported by hospitals under the code, ICR 10 Code T63.0 which deals with the Toxic Effect of Snake Venom. While the cases were on the rise till 2016, they dropped in 2017 and increased until 2019. In 2020, the number of cases and deaths dropped significantly. This could be because of the pandemic as the movement of people was restricted and healthcare centres were strained and prioritized on treating COVID-19.
UP, MP, and Gujarat account for 10% of the cases and 21% of the deaths
About 44% of the deaths due to snake bites between 2012 & 2021 were reported in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Odisha alone. In fact, West Bengal reported 2200 deaths, which is more than that reported by 27 states/UTs put together. The 3 states were also responsible for 43% of the cases reported during this period. Though Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu reported 19.5% of the cases, the two accounted for only 8.5% of the deaths. On the other hand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat which accounted for only 10% of the cases, reported more than 21% of the deaths. Similarly, Chhattisgarh and Assam account for only 2.2% and 0.4% of the cases respectively while they account for more than 3% of the deaths.
This indicates that there is a discrepancy between reported cases and deaths in different states, possibly due to the variations in the management of snakebites. That is, the chances of a snakebite resulting in death are higher in some states which could be because of the poorer healthcare access, unavailability, and distribution of anti-snake venom, among others.
If normalized for population, 10 cases of snake bites were reported for every lakh population at the All-India level in 2021. There is significant variation across states. While this number was less than 10 throughout the years in Assam, Bihar, Punjab, and Rajasthan, the number was considerably high in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.
Huge Difference in the Number of Deaths as reported by NCRB & Ministry of Health
While the story has considered the figures reported by the Health Ministry, studies suggest that snake bites are grossly under-reported in India. According to a comprehensive literature review by researchers, approximately 58,000 deaths result from an estimated 3-4 million snakebites annually, contributing to half of the world’s snakebite fatalities. Comparing this with the NHP data shows that only a fraction of snakebite cases are reported to clinics and hospitals. According to the Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India report by the NCRB that collects data from police cases, snake bites were responsible for more than 10,000 deaths in 2022 alone. The NCRB reported more than 10,000 deaths due to poisoning by snake bites even in 2021 while the NHP reports only about 1000 deaths due to snake bites.
Various measures have been taken to deal with these conflicts
Unlike in the case of conflicts with tigers and elephants, the conflicts with dogs and snakes & resulting deaths are an indication of the effectiveness of the healthcare system. These conflicts differ in their nature and responses. For instance, prompt medical care can help prevent deaths arising out of dog and snake attacks.
Multifaceted approaches aimed at prevention, treatment, and mitigation are being implemented by the governments. Some measures are population control measures for dogs, Anti-Rabies vaccination programs, Public Awareness Campaigns, and ensuring the production and availability of Anti Venom Serum concerning snake bites. Compensation between Rs. 1 Lakh to Rs. 4 Lakhs are also provided by State governments for deaths due to snake bites. For dog attacks, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered a minimum compensation of Rs.10,000 per tooth mark and where the flesh has been pulled off the skin, and a minimum of Rs. 20,000 depending on the size of the wound.
Featured Image: Deaths Due to Snake Bite