Hungry dogs raid morgues

2005-01-11 21:38

Phang Nga, Thailand - At a Buddhist temple used as a morgue and elsewhere in tsunami disaster zones, hungry stray dogs have been feeding on victims' corpses, even managing to get into body bags to do so, relief workers say.

It has become such a problem that a group of Thai veterinarians, armed with tranquiliser guns, has been given the task of capturing the strays.

Aid workers in India have used real bullets.

About 2 000 bodies are being kept in the temple while undergoing autopsies and other identification attempts.

Most have been kept refrigerated, but some newly found ones sometimes lay on the open ground pending a post-mortem exam.

The vets' goal is to make the area affected by the tsunami a "stray-dog free zone". They plan to send the captured dogs to a sanctuary in western Thailand.

Before the tsunami, most probably weren't strays but house pets whose masters were killed in the disaster.

"These dogs are smart. They can unzip body bags and eat the corpses inside," said Tohboon Sappasri, a Thai volunteer who has taken a two-month leave from his job in the US to help tsunami victims.

Such macabre goings-on are not unusual in disaster zones, where people are no longer able to take care of their animals.

Civic workers killed packs of stray dogs that were attacking tsunami survivors, including children, at relief shelters in some of the worst-hit areas of southern India.

The dogs' behaviour changed after they ate corpses washed ashore after the tsunami struck, said Shantha Sheela Nair, a relief official in the area.

David Reinecker, a US-based animal behaviourist and professional dog trainer, said he was not surprised by the reports.

"We must not forget that dogs are carnivore animals and they follow the scent trails of blood," Reinecker said in an e-mail interview.

"Put simply, their predatory instinct is pushing them to search for 'food.' The dogs that survived the tsunami are going through a period of stress, fear and trauma.

"Pet dogs may be looking for their owners at the beginning, but with the time they will be in desperate need of aliment.

"If there are stray dogs in the area, they will be the first animals eating human flesh and the more domesticated dogs will follow."

Reinecker, who runs a Los Angeles-based business called Dog Remedy Behavioural Training, warns that eating human flesh could make the dogs more dangerous.

"Once a dog has tasted human or animal blood, he/she will have a preference for it.

"Working with aggressive dogs on a daily basis, I explain to dog owners the dangers of including raw or cooked meat in the dog's diet," he said.

"Yes, a dog will become dangerous and even vicious if fed with human/animal flesh."

He said some drastic measure would be needed to tame the strays' aggressive behaviour, including changes in diet, hormone treatment, and even drugs like Prozac and Valium.