Authorities in Indian Kashmir have begun poisoning stray dogs in an anti-rabies programme that aims to kill 100,000 dogs in the region's main city.
Animal rights activists vowed to go to court in an attempt to stop the slaughter planned in Srinagar, saying it is an illegal and cruel solution to a problem that could be better addressed with other methods.
Riyaz Ahmad, the city's health officer, said: "These dogs have become a big nuisance and they are threatening humans. We have placed orders for the poison and then we will launch a large-scale drive."
Dr Ahmad said some 500 dogs had been killed so far and that the target was to exterminate all the city's strays –estimated at more than 100,000.
While the drive has been touted as an anti-rabies initiative, Dr Ahmad acknowledged that with only two deaths from 1,341 dog bites reported in Srinagar last year, it was more about appeasing a public that seems overwhelmingly to support the plan.
Shabir Ahmad, a construction worker in the city, said: "They should have done it earlier; these dogs have made our lives hell."
Animal rights activists said they would try to stop the killings. "We are going to file a suit against the municipal corporation if they go ahead with this, because this poisoning drive will be against the prevention of cruelty act," said Javaid Iqbal Shah, the deputy head of the Srinagar Society to Prevent Cruelty to Animals. He said the poison used, strychnine, was particularly cruel. "It cripples the nervous system and then chokes the animal," he said. "It is not a good sight to see these animals die by the roadside."
Mr Shah has urged the city to carry out a sterilisation programme instead but acknowledged that his organisation had only managed to sterilise 400 dogs in the past two years.
India accounts for more than 60 per cent of the estimated 35,000 annual global rabies deaths, according to the World Health organisation, and stray dogs are often blamed.