for National Geographic News
Live and dead dogs and cats are being used as shark bait by amateur fishers on the French-controlled island of Réunion, according to animal-welfare organizations and local authorities.
The small volcanic island off Africa's east coast is bursting with stray dogsupward of 150,000, says Reha Hutin, president of the Paris-based Fondation 30 Millions d'Amis (the Thirty Million Friends Foundation).
Hutin sent a film crew to Réunion this summer to obtain proof that live animals were being used as shark bait. The goal was to expose the practice on the animal rights group's weekly television show.
It didn't take long for the film crew to find three separate cases, she said.
A videotape and photographs show the dogs with multiple hooks sunk deep into their paws and snouts.
"From then on everyone started to take the whole story seriously and realized it was true," Hutin said.
A veterinarian successfully treated one of the canines, a six-month-old dog with a large fishhook through its snout (see photo), at an SPA (Société Protectrice des Animaux, or Animal Protective Society) clinic in Réunion's capital, St.-Denis.
Unlike most of the hooked animals, the dog was someone's pet, according to Saliha Hadj-Djilani, a reporter for the Thirty Million Friends Foundation's TV program. The dog had apparently escaped its captors and was taken to the SPA by a concerned citizen. Fully recovered, the animal is now home with its owners.
The other two cases uncovered by Thirty Million Friends were strays. They now live in France with new owners.
The foundation plans to finance a sterilization program on the island to reduce the stray overpopulation. But the job won't be easy.
Hutin said many locals view the strays as vermin. "There's no value to the life of a dog there," she said.
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